“I’ve been looking over this book and it’s quite the magical artifact itself. Both science and magic seek understanding of the nature of the universe and manipulation of its forces, and eventually to overcoming the limits of the universe. I found the ritual he used and it’s powerful, like a trebuchet or blockbuster bombs. But crude, imprecise, and flawed.”
Mobian led me up the steps of his ship to the platform with the control panel. “Didn’t these steps curve differently before?” I asked.
“I change the interior sometimes. I have control over spacetime in this ship.” He pulled a lever. An image appeared over everyone, showing Earth, then a bunch of copies of Earth, then moved all of them over to the right and showed lines trailing from them to the left. He also showed a little orb next to one Earth. “Time travel is normally about moving along the time stream, the past or the inevitable futures.”
“The future’s not supposed to be set in stone,” Marivel said from below us.
“It can’t be,” Blackstone said.
“Chaos theory’s a bitch,” I called down to them.
“Quite,” Mobian said. “It’s possible to travel to the past and alter it, but that causes problems.”
“The Universe Divide is a rough barrier to pass through,” I noted.
Mobian continued. One Earth then slid on top of another, covering it and its timeline. “Yes. And that will create problems.”
“It hasn’t yet,” Blackstone said. He pointed to Marivel. “Things are better than ever.”
“I shouldn’t have to tell you why this is so wrong,” Mobian said as Marivel stepped away from Blackstone.
“Yeah,” she said. “Who are you really?”
“I’m Doug, for real. Just a Doug from a worst Earth. Things went wrong there,” he answered
I pointed to Mobian. “The Claw, dead. Ricca no longer on the warpath and all the brainwashed supers free. Empyreal City not ruled by Spinetingler. Mot dead instead of eating people. The Fluidics, all gone. Did I miss anything?”
Images appeared of all of them as I called them out. “Some would see your assassination of the Presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation as preferable,” Mobian added.
“They’ve killed millions,” Marivel said, looking at Blackstone. “Why did you cause that?”
“I didn’t cause it,” he said. “She did!” he pointed to me. “She killed my mom and dad.”
“We’re getting too much into statistics here,” I said. “Most people here aren’t better off, and you’re not her husband. Just a lookalike from another dimension trying to live his life.”
“It’s the way my life was meant to be,” Blackstone said. I cringed to myself.
Marivel squared up with him. “I’m not an accessory to my husband’s life. My Dougie loves me!”
“Ever meet Kant?” I asked Mobian. He shook his head no. “He’d be perfectly fine with a discussion like this taking forever… feels like we’ve been here for days already… but that’s not what I’m here for.”
I hopped down to the lower floor and walked over to Marivel. She’s such a skinny little thing. She can’t be healthy. One good fall, or twist, and her poor little head might snap off. And if that happened, what reason would Blackstone have to stay? He might try to just take the ritual back to now, but I like my odds of taking him if he tries that. Then we just try with a different mage.
“If I may interject with a compromise,” Mobian said. “The Earth you rightly belong to is not destroyed. It is temporally displaced, but this can’t last forever. There will be temporal bleed. There are already signs of it. Gecko’s presence is one effect. Others are more difficult to detect unless you are as intimately familiar with the workings of time as I am. They will get worse. People will have memories of both timelines as they merge. That could get rather ugly if it doesn’t go smoothly. You ever seen two people mashed together by temporal displacement? You would throw up your stomach.”
“What’re you thinking?” I asked.
Mobian showed moved one Earth off the other on his hologram. “It’s simple. Knowing this is an alternate universe imposed on our own, we should be able to use the ritual to reverse the two. My craft can guide the ritual so that we don’t displace a third universe. The timeline will be a mess for the period the two were one and the same, but you or I could bring Blackstone back to it as himself.”
“What about my Doug?” Marivel asked.
Mobian gestured with a roll of his hand. “You would still have your husband as himself, and then this one would show up as a separate entity.”
“But then she wouldn’t be mine,” Blackstone said.
I rolled my eyes. “She was never yours. This situations’s fucked up. You don’t always get what you want. Welcome to life.”
“Is there one of me on your world?” Marivel asked.
“Probably,” Mobian and I said at the same time.
Marivel looked to Blackstone, who still had that look in his eye like someone who didn’t give a crap as long as they got what they wanted. My poker record is nothing to carve into the moon with a giant laser, but I can still recognize that one well enough. It’s like one of those guys who raises before they’ve even looked at their cards.
But Marivel, who at this point seemed to be the only voice Blackstone might listen to, stepped toward him and cowboy’ed up. “I don’t love you, but it’s possible that the me on your world might. I love another Doug Blackstone, and he loves me. If you stay, you’re hurting your other self and me. If you love me, leave.”
I saw Blackstone bunching up like he was going to argue or pounce. In the end, he did neither. He took a breath, let it go, and unclenched. I stepped up behind Marivel and patted her on the shoulder. “Good going. We’ll have this mess sorted out before the worldwide disasters start for once.”
Blackstone glared. “Get your hands off her.”
“I’ll put my hands wherever I want, but if you really want me to leave her alone, you know how to make it happen,” I said.
At that, Mobian pressed a button. Part of the floor opened up and a pedestal arose with Los Cincos Soles Dorados, the transcribed rituals of Nahuatal time mages, open upon it.
“I have configured this altar to redirect the energies of the book, to focus them on separating the two,” the time traveler said.
Marivel raised her hand to about head height. “Do you need me to do anything?”
Mobian smiled at her, “No, my dear, you’ve done fantastic already.” He gave me a look. Have I clarified before that there’s a difference between looking at someone and giving them a look? One’s a form of perception, the other’s communication. There’s meaning behind a look. This one was something like relief and a warning. I think he realized how close Marivel came to being sacrificed for our cause.
She stepped off to the side while Blackstone approached the book. He looked at me. “The sympathetic magics involved should be more easily accessed, but I need you here with me.” He held out a hand and I took it, standing close. The book really didn’t like me looking at it, but he read from it just fine.
Mobian rushed up the staircase to his control center and oversaw the creation of many bops and beeps.
“I need you to be honest with me, Gecko. What do you want more than anything else in the world?” Blackstone asked in a pause between chants.
I closed my eyes and recalled video of Qiang. “I want to see my daughter. And family. And friends.”
“You aren’t sad to leave an entire new world of victims behind?” he asked.
It was my turn to give him a look, one of incredulity. “I want to go home.”
He nodded and began chanting. I had a bit of trouble with the language, my database not having a lot of Pre-Colombian New World Languages to go off of, especially not in the areas colonized by the Spanish. But I could feel the power in the words. The light rose around us. I looked around and saw markings in the air the same color I’d gotten use to from the book.
“Whoa nelly!” Mobian called from his control dais. The lights expanded and then contracted within the timecraft. A spotlight from the ceiling shone down in a circle around us and the lights began to form a line in that lit area.
I heard Marivel gasping as she watched the whole thing, but I stayed focused on Blackstone and the book. And home. And Qiang.
With a sudden thunderclap, it all gave out and sparks flew from the ceiling. Blackstone braced himself on the pedestal. I caught myself on it as well. Marivel just collapsed. The timecraft jerked all over the place, which put me on my ass. After about a minute of tilt-a-whirl, Mobian got control of his ship.
“Captain’s log, Stardate 01-14-2019,” I said, standing back up on shaky knees. My HUD’s clock blinked 12:00 instead of giving the proper date, so I was going off of when we were before all the magical hijinks. “Something went down. We were… shot through a wormhole… in the… asspull nebula. Mr. Chekov, where are we?” I looked up to Mobian.
“I’m the captain of this vessel,” he responded. “We’re in the correct place, with the correct timeline.”
He brought up an image of the Earth. After a moment, he zoomed in, showing what looked like my city, but paused. “Now we watch as time reasserts itself.”
Eyebrow raised, I kept an eye on it while palming the ceramic knife I kept under my bed. I began to wonder if swiping it behind me without knowing for sure Blackstone’s there would take him out, then I realized with a smile that little deal was no longer in play. I wouldn’t have to throw a knife in the dark at a random intruder or set up bear traps. I could just end it right there.
I turned and swiped for his throat. Before I connected, I was yanked out of the timecraft. It was like being thrown out an airlock, but I was the only one being tossed out the now-open door of Mobian’s timecraft. Suddenly, my clock reset back to December, and the day the world changed. The fall was unusual as well. I didn’t feel the normal wind of skydiving, and I accelerated faster than terminal velocity before slowing and settling on the couch where I’d been when Blackstone’s ritual first took off and separated the world.
I sat there, watching as everybody sped up from moving slowly to normal to rushing in superspeed. Nobody touched the presents and the tree began to dry and drop needles everywhere. And I just sat there, unable to move while the clock on my HUD went crazy, finally settling on January 14th, 2019.
Lights out… and then I woke up to find myself dogpiled by Qiang, Citra, Mix N’Max, and even Silver Shark. I knew she still liked me. “What’s up, guys?” I asked, keeping a firm hold of Qiang.
“You went missing!” My daughter said through teary eyes and snot bubbles.
“Something freaky happened,” Max said. “Nobody believes me.”
“Max was really high. He was talking about another life where he’d never met you,” said Sam, who went for a punk green and red mohawk with isolated bangs.
I hugged Qiang. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too, mama,” she said.
I kissed the top of her head a bunch. “You didn’t open your presents.”
“The Little Empress was waiting on you,” Citra said. I kissed her.
“Well, if we’re finally ready for the mother of all belated Christmases,” I said, looking around. “I’ve got a hell of a story for everyone…
Aside from our own Thanksgiving holiday to an unnamed island in the Mediterranean that hosts supervillains, it’s been relatively boring as of late. Sure, there’ve been problems to deal with. Big influx of refugees from Central America. I think I unnerved the nearby Directors when I found out about it. They didn’t find it as funny as I did, probably because they were Honduran instead of Peruvian.
I happened to have a lot of spare food laying around from my attempt to get people to stop their Christmas obsession by threatening to take away Thanksgiving, so it worked out. Turkeys for tots. I was going to reinstate the old self-proclaimed Immigration Director, but he’s dead. Funny story, this blacksmith was moving his anvil up to the second story of his building for some reason. The Director visiting a nephew at the nephew’s two-story blacksmith supply emporium on delivery day, when they were lifting anvils up to the second floor storage. Heck of a place for a collision with a drunk segway motorist. Ran right over his head. Not really a way to save someone at that point.
So I decided to chuck it in the fuck it bucket and came up with a new idea. I just let them in. They had to register real quick, with a subtle body and DNA scan. My guys used the data to create a profile for them on the island’s AR overlay. Think of it as a digital ghost the exact size and shape of a person that is laid on top of them everywhere they go with data embedded that keeps track of money and welfare. Even if they don’t get the equipment to interact with it, it’s compatible with the banks and most vendors on Ricca. A person with the overlay can walk right up to a register, get scanned, and the computers do the rest. If they have phones or glasses that interact with it, they can transfer it person to person.
The system appears to be secure so far, using my modified operating system that branched off from the dimension I came from. Nice and easy, with an option to operate off the grid with money.
So I’m working on that sort of thing, hunting bugs and building up the registration team. I already found some new workers for the nuclear power plant, and some nurses. If the nurses can’t hack it here, we have a training program in Belgium to help their hospital workers integrate nanite healing into their practices.
There’s really no crisis for what feels like the first time in five years or so. I’m not even all that worried about holiday problems this year. I think I’ve done about all I can for Christmas, and I simply don’t know enough about Hanukkah to help out. Also, Ricca doesn’t really celebrate Christmas. I heard Master Academy had something hectic going on in their neck of the woods, but it doesn’t appear to involve either myself or any anthropomorphic personifications of seasonal feelings so I’m sitting that out.
Yep, when I laid my head down to finally sleep, my brain swimming in medication Mix N’Max claims is keeping me level, I had nothing to do but hold my hot wife and sleep. I was awakened by the sound of metal chains making a racket. I reached over and grabbed for a weapon from the nightstand.
The Good Doctor, appearing see through, stepped through the wall. To begin with, he was clearly still dead. Once again, it’s kinda tough to bring someone back from how I killed him, and he didn’t look any more alive now that he was translucent. A spike had been driven into his heart that held the thick metal chain that wrapped around his body to him. He was clearly dead as a door nail, not that I know what’s so dead about door nails in particular. But it was Good Doctor. The same face and costume, with the addition of a thick chain with embedded designs of scalpels, bonesaws, and human organs.
I nodded to him, “Sup?”
“A lot. Er, is this a bad time?”
“I was trying to sleep,” I answered.
“That, and you, and her,” he said, sweeping his hand across the large dildo I held in my hand, my nude appearance, and my naked wife who had inexplicably remained sleeping. Probably because she snores like a bear.
I pulled on a teddy to cover up. “Fine, fine. I’m surprised you’re so prudish. Aren’t you British?”
“Actually, I’m dead,” he said. “However, I have important news for you that is best delivered if you aren’t otherwise distracted.”
I stood up and slid on some panties, then ran over and tried hugging him. My arms went right through him. “Aww,” I said.
He responded with a pained smile. “Being dead has tempered the hate I had for you in life, as a partner in your misdeeds. It is… nice you still see me as a friend.”
“Of course I do! One of the few I had for a long time. A little thing like fighting to the death isn’t going to change that,” I said. “Sorry about killing you by the way. Really the only thing to be done.”
He nodded. “Yes, it was you or me. Mind, I’d have preferred it being me.”
I shrugged. “I mean, obviously I feel the same way. Hard to fault you. So how you been?”
“I’ve been dead,” he said.
“Cool, I guess. So, you’re like a ghost now? The guys at the cemetery didn’t mention that.”
He shook his head. “This is not an ongoing thing. I was brought back and compelled to impart on you a message.”
“Wow… dick move. Someone brought you back from the dead because they couldn’t bother writing an email or texting?” I asked.
“I know, right?” Doc agreed.
I leaned in to stage whisper conspiratorially. “If you know the guy’s name, I wouldn’t mind doing you a little favor. Ya know, sending him a message involving being dead the old fashioned way. Or her, I should say. I still forget that stuff, despite, ya know…” I pointed at my awesome boobage.
“Yes, well, I don’t know what force has put me back on Earth or forced me to weigh me down with the chains of my sins while alive. This doesn’t make any sense, does it?” he asked, pointing to the chains.
I reached for one and passed right through. “Yeah, gravity isn’t ordinarily something I associate with ghosts, but there are loads of unanswered questions there regarding centrifugal force and gravity that magic has to answer for.”
“Right. Including the fact I’m back and not even allowed to enjoy a nice cup of tea. Look at me, I appear to have gotten into the weeds on this. I should continue on, then we can hang out. Where was I…” He cocked his head to think. When he spoke again, it was with a cadence of recitation instead of the normal way in which he conversed. “Oh yes. I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, meter by meter. I girded it of my own free will… bugger that, you know I was forced into this… and of my own free will I wear it, which is a load of bollocks as well. Would you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? I don’t even want to think about it.”
“The ending was a little weak,” I judged. “But if someone’s going to stick a chain on me after death in proportion to the evil they think I’ve done, chances are good it’d be a lot worse than yours. Now to figure out who this necromancer is and do them in first…” I set up a database search for people in the superhuman community that practice magic. The Faustus/Hephaestus organization is top of the list and probably have a more complete listing than I do. I imagine plenty of people using magic just want to go about their everyday lives instead of throwing on capes and fighting people in tights.
“I don’t know about the chain. It is just the message I was given to convey. Now I’m worried what will happen if you die and someone raises you from the dead as some sort of ghostly reaper,” Good Doctor said. He sighed and looked around. Spotting a chair next to a small desk, he sat down in it.
I pointed at the chair. “Exactly what I mean about magic having a lot to answer for. Can you believe that shit?”
“Relax, I’m tired for some reason,” he looked down at where he seemed to be sweating. “I seem to have sprung a leak.”
I waved it off. “Probably just ectoplasm. Don’t worry, the folks who clean in here are used to strange fluids in strange places. So was that it? That all you needed to say?”
“I feel as though my time is nearly gone,” he said, taking up the same cadence as when he was reciting his message, “But I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Psychopomp.”
“You’re a good guy, dude,” I told him.
“You will be haunted by three spirits,” he said.
I pointed the dildo at him. “Dammit, Doc, I will fuck a ghost up. Don’t you play with me. I’ll bust the shit out of you.”
He held his hands up. “This is the message again! There will be three more ghosts. They shall come at midnight on different days.”
I thought about it a minute. “Ghost of a friend I used to partner with… visited by three ghosts… are any of them related to Christmas in the past, present, or future?”
He shrugged. “I think so? I don’t have a lot of information about my current condition and what is compelling me to do and say these things.”
I brought the hand with the dildo up to rub my forehead, the veiny purple toy wobbling as I did so. “Just when I thought I was safe from Christmas, someone’s gone and pulled A Christmas Carol on me.”
“You think it was a person?” Doc asked. “If there is someone behind this, I haven’t met them or spoken with them.”
“Makes more sense to me than the universe suddenly changing how it works out of nowhere to spit out a bunch of ghosts related to a man-made holiday in the hopes of reforming me when I’m not even at my worst,” I explained.
“I wish you luck,” Doctor said, standing up. “I must go, and I do not know if I shall ever see you again.” He adjusted the chain. “I will be glad to be rid of this.” He looked up at me. “Good luck staying out of this chain yourself. For what it’s worth, I hope you become a better person, but for your own sake. These violent delights have violent ends, you know.”
“We’ll see how it turns out.” I smiled at him as he began to fade away. “Rest in peace, Doc.”
When I was pretty sure he was gone, I sat back down on my bed to contemplate the necromancer and ghosts trying to mess with me. Then I laid back down and finally set the dildo I’d grabbed from the nightstand back where it had been, my fingers tracing the model name on the side that read, “Big Humbug”.
Perhaps I’ve neglected my self-imposed duties to VillaiNet too long. Perhaps I feel the need to reassure them I’m still down with the agreement we all made despite killing a lot of superhumans lately. Perhaps I just get bored ruling easily. I was called upon to judge people. And I can get very judgy. I sent the White House to another dimension, after all. Still a good call, I believe.
In full armor, I saw a child custody case between a villain and her hero husband. Vertigal had the power to reverse the effects of gravity, temporarily. Her husband, on the other hand… “What, exactly do you do?” I asked him.
“I have a sticky sprayer and sticky grenades. They use a special adhesive that’s almost impossible to remove,” the man said. He wore a crimson and yellow outfit with thick red boots and yellow gloves. He had a big black “R” across his chest. “I’m Resolve, by the way. When my-my wife said we were visiting a Pacific paradise, I thought this would be more about pleasure than coming before a killer supervillain.”
“Pe- Resolve, take a breath. If this was about hurting you, there are better ways to do it.” Vertigal had a costume made up of black and white swirls that swept up from her legs. She resembled a spiral if you saw her from above. The effect didn’t work so well from ground level, but she sought my judgment in relation to child custody, not fashion. A little heavy on the hips, but she is a mother. Her mask had the same black and white spiral pattern over it, with a black-colored eye area over white spiral and a white one over black spiral.
They’d both come before my throne. Sure, I was bored, but I also just got back to my daughter and family. Even my wife had been welcoming despite the political nature of our marriage and her spending all her time on online courses now. So when the whole dispute was sent through to me for whatever reason, I offered to fly them both out here. We’re getting a lot more normal commercial service these days. Unlike some countries, my regime isn’t known for torturing journalists to death or inciting street fighters to attack my political opponents. I murder those myself, then I tell the witnesses I’ll kill them if they talk to the press. Makes me look better in comparison, which has really been the key to my success.
“You didn’t think to warn me you were bringing me here?” he asked.
“You didn’t warn me you were going to tell the cops who I was to keep Sara to yourself,” she said.
Resolve threw up his hands. “You were going to get full custody. She’s my daughter too.”
“You play around with chemicals and make superglue. You don’t have the time or money to take care of her, but I do,” Vertigal responded.
“Stolen money!” he said.
“Your mother didn’t mind my stolen money paying for her new boobs, did she?” Vertigal sniped back.
Resolve didn’t like that one. “Can we get off my mom’s boobs?!”
“About time you wanted to,” Vertigal said.
With them arguing and barely paying me any attention, I waved over one of the Directory servants. There aren’t really too many Directors left aside from those I ask to continue handling their particular duties, so the servants pretty much solely cater to my whims. That meant bringing over a snack for me of some dumplings. “Just leave that there, thank you,” I said to the servant. I picked up chopsticks and began tossing them to see if I could bounce one off the top of someone’s head. One smacked Vertigal’s cheek, getting a laugh from Resolve. Then he tried to catch a dumpling that hit him in the side of the leg. It ended up falling into his boot.
While he pulled it off to dump the dumpling out, I took my turn to speak. “If I wanted to hear all this, I’d put on a daytime talk show. You, Vertigal, you thought he shouldn’t have custody?”
“I’m fine with visits and letting her stay with him some. Resolve goes out every night and has trouble holding down a job because of his crimefighting. That’s no environment for my baby girl. Then he outed me to the cops,” she sounded bitter through that full face mask.
“Who wants their daughter growing up in a house with a career criminal? I found out your friend Fred was another villain. Is that the crowd you want around Sara?” Resolve said.
I raised four hands. “Address me from now on or I’ll find bigger things to throw at you both. So, Vertigal, you’re concerned about Resolve being able to adequately care for your child because of his heroic duties, and him providing monetarily for her needs. Resolve, you’re concerned about your daughter being raised by a supervillain. Going to be honest here, not an argument I’m amenable too.” I stapled both sets of hands. “It’s not helped by the fact that now she’s on the run because you told people her identity. I can see now why this scenario was referred to me. That was a shitty move, Resolve. How would you like it if I put your real name out there for everyone to see, including the villains?”
“I was doing what’s right. I didn’t intend to hurt anybody,” he said.
I stood up. “But you did, didn’t you? If you’d only intended to hurt her, this might have been even easier on you. You two get into a fight, like heroes and villains do. But in the name of doing what’s right without thinking of the consequences, you outed your daughter’s mother to the police. They’ll be after her. She might go on the run, keeping Sara from having a stable life. You might win custody, but the only way she gets to see her daughter is if she keeps her out of your hands or those of the Justice system. Or she gets arrested, and your daughter grows up with a parent in prison.”
He looked to Vertigal, then looked down.
I clapped my hands together. “I got it! An idea to make this nice and fair, Wisdom of Solomon- style.” I beckoned a servant over. “Bring me butcher knife.”
“No!” both supers yelled, rushing toward me. I held my open palms toward them and they stopped. It wasn’t nanites so much as authority.
“I assure you, I have no intentions of cutting your daughter in half.” I let that rest for a moment before adding. “I’m a hero killer after all. I’ll cut her father in half.”
Guards I’d silently summoned marched forth from behind Resolve, holding their microguns to his back. He reached down for his belt before remembering he was disarmed.
“Stop!” Vertigal put herself between myself and Resolve. “Please. Yes, he’s a prick, but he’s still my baby’s daddy. I don’t hate him, I suppose.”
I stepped down the steps toward her. “You would stand in the way of my decision to half him?”
She swallowed. “Please. A-and besides, killing him means the state can take Sara if I’m put in jail.”
I waved off the guards. They bowed, turned, and left. I circled around hero and villain like a shark. “Under an agreement your ex-wife has joined, she has every right to call for your death, Resolve. So you two are going to work this out. Vertigal’s on the run, so I’ll fix her up with disguises. Maybe a wig. Officially you’ve got custody because of your stunt, but she can at least be your babysitter. You can even claim it’s your ex paying for the sitter from on the run. Now shake on it.”
They turned and shook, at which point I came up and clapped them on their nearest shoulders. “Good. Now it’s time for the punishment.”
Resolve was aghast. “I thought you weren’t going to kill me?!”
I shrugged my shoulders even as I held him in place with a lower arm. “I’m not, no, but I was called upon to enact justice. And I will do so… for great justice!” I pointed a finger to the sky.
“You’re a villain! What do you care about justice?” Resolve asked. Vertigal looked at him and rolled her eyes.
I informed him that, “I’ll have you know I have quite the highly-developed sense of justice. That’s precisely why I’m a villain.”
Resolve shared a wordless look with Vertigal, who told him. “I’m in it for the money.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “Personally, the joy of hurting people was also a major part of it for me. You wouldn’t believe it. But yeah. You can’t just expose people’s identities, dude. If I let you get away with it, it sends a signal that it’s ok to do that. We can’t have that.”
That’s how we found ourselves out on the water in a small yacht that fell off the back of a truck somewhere. My wife joined us, bringing along tea and speaking with Vertigal. Citra’s a hell of a lot more diplomatic than myself. And nice to stare at in her two-piece. Vertigal’s not so bad herself, if a bit paler than I expected. Always fun to realize in the middle of eyeing someone’s ass that they’re admiring mine as well. Yep, I too changed into something better for the ocean, though I’ve been favoring one-pieces lately. So while Vertigal hopefully broached the subject of a threesome with my wife, I saw to making sure her husband wouldn’t be unmasking anyone else if he was in a position to do so. I got it on video as well, just so VillainNet could see the consequences.
They’ll probably watch it with sound off, considering I was singing as I rode a robo-shark. “Butterfly in the sky!” I said, arms spread wide. I squeezed the robo-shark’s saddle with my legs, feet hooked in stirrups. The whole shiver of sharks, as a group of such are called, circled Resolve, who tried to balance himself on a teeny-tiny inner tube that would sink if he put all his wait on top of it. Occasionally, one of the other sharks would come and give him a little nip. Just enough to tear some of his costume away. And my mount would leap out of the water, with me singing.
“I can go twice as high!” Chomp. “Take a look!” Chomp. “It’s in a book!” Chomp. “A reading rainbow!”
I’m “swearing” off women other than my wife. Yes, the square quotes are intentional. I didn’t swear actually swear or promise or make a deal about anything. I’m just going to try. I don’t know why it seems worthwhile to me. I don’t love Citra. We’re friendly but not friends. Maybe the best reason I can come up with is the dignity of my position. I mean, just imagine how hard it’d be to take a world leader seriously if I had strippers and porn stars doing tell-all interviews describing what my sex parts look like in an embarrassing way. Like saying it’s abnormally big and resembled a Sarlacc pit.
I know, it’s weird. It’s just that her feelings suddenly matter more after a few of Max’s beers. Not that they were completely out of mind. Carl, Moai, Qiang, Max… not the first people I cared about.
I confronted someone I didn’t care about, too. I visited Elda. Technically, she’s supposed to be my wife as part of a political marriage with the Bronze City over on the island of Mu. I betrayed her and put her into a coma while marrying Citra who used nanite surgery to look like her. I stopped by a special room in the hospital that no one knows about and left a sword in there. “Hello Elda. Long time no see.”
She didn’t respond, naturally. The equipment hooked up to her showed her to be healthy enough. The nanites were keeping her comatose. She’d lost weight, though. I sent out out an order to nanites and the medical staff. “A bit skinny there. I’ll work on that. I’ve wronged you, Elda. No duh, right? You had dreams of being some warrior princess and here I come to be the one to marry you. I should have worked something out with you that didn’t involve hurting you.” The nanites made sure my message go through to her, because science. Hail science!
“I’m sorry. This sword is the first of the gifts I’ll be throwing together for you. They’ll bring up clothes later and I have armor being printed off for you. Before I… there’s a fight coming up involving people who have a reputation as gods, and the powers to back it up. When I go, I’m going to make sure we drop you off somewhere. Give you a shot at being your own person, as you deserve. I’ll throw in some money and arrange for a tutor on this crazy new world you’ll be in, but I think you’ll fit in. The land I have in mind is a land of conflict, where you can find your way for good or ill. A land where you can, with effort, become who you want to be out from under my shadow.”
I stepped close and laid my hand over hers. “I am by far the shittiest spouse you could have gotten. I hope you find a better life than I obviously planned for you.”
That decision’s going to bite me in the ass at some point. But it’s still the right one. Ugh, that statement… I need a beer.
Speaking of things that can fuck me over, Hu. Hu’s attempts to get me to understand proportionality, like Citra, rubbed off on me. The dude’s still not being my liason another time, but he’s got good skills and he cares. He just fucked up. I suppose the case could be made for how I shouldn’t have killed that judge or Wong the Director, but I can rationalize it another way. Hu is still good at his job despite his poor judgment, in which he went above and beyond his authorized powers. Wong and that judge’s entire job amounted to their judgment and how they used it. They both showed themselves incompetent with the powers vested in them, which was hazardous to my nation.
Side note: Queen Beetrice, the giant bee woman obsessed with snoo-snooing me to death, has heard I did a good job on the courts and thinks I need to help out over in North Korea. They are my people too, but I guess her self-education hasn’t prepared her for making North Korea’s judicial system less gulag-y. I got her some notes, but that’s the best I could do. I have more important things to worry about than that at this point.
I have the Place du Bourg-de-Four under so much surveillance it would make a porn site feel forgotten. Do you know how many rats fart there on average each day? I do. Disturbances in the pattern of rat farts could be the only indication the Three Hares have snuck an ambush into place or deployed some form of weapon. Rat farts start petering off and then I find out there’s poison gas hidden around that’s been killing them off slowly while waiting on me to get close.
The Hares wouldn’t expect me to pay attention, but I’ll show them. I’ll show all of them. There’s an ancient conspiracy uniting ancient European, African, American, Asian, and Oceanian mythology, involving gods and aliens guiding the world while remaining hidden, and the rats will tell me if they try to kill me. Yes, the Three Hares will rue the day Psycho Gecko started taking her medication! Mwahahahaha!
So like I said, the stuff Max is giving me for my mental health has done wonders to make me a more sane and functional person. And it’s all thanks to my extensive drinking of alcohol. Couldn’t have done it without putting all that beer in me. It’s practically made me a role model compared to my old self.
That doesn’t mean all my problems are solved. In addition to keeping an eye on the Three Hares, the United States government wants me to give back Rhonda, Leland, and Kayla. I’ve refused on the grounds of Ricca being safer. The envoy from the U.S. Started to laugh at the idea that U.S. Citizens are safer in an foreign dictatorship until I showed him the front page of the latest newspaper showing brutal murders committed by police, children being rounded up and placed into internment camps, and constant mass shootings. The only response was an awkward, “We didn’t realize you subscribed to American news.”
He’d had a drink of water. It would have been so easy. An aneurysm. A heart attack. A stroke. He sat there, speaking as if I needed to do what he said or I’d be obliterated. Because how dare anybody challenge them. The rest of the world just has to let them push them around. Makes me want to find something big to shove, whole, up that guy’s ass. Reminds me a lot of myself.
Well, Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day. The Visigoths didn’t have dimensional technology. I do, so I’ve been throwing one together. It’s all part of the plan, you see. Get peace, or make them die trying. But that’s all boring. I’ve built plenty of those. The really interesting stuff happened, as it so often does, when I was in the shower.
I was sudsing myself up with all four arms, getting my curves nice and clean. The door rang. It was that pizza I ordered that I didn’t have enough money to pay for.
Fanservice over. I was farting my way through another shower when someone screamed my name. It’s not an unusual sound for the shower, but I do prefer the person screaming it be in there with me when the magic’s happening. I didn’t think too much of it, until more voices joined in. Figuring the household wasn’t turning into my own personal chorus of the damned, I threw a towel around my waist, another around my boobs, and a last one around my hair. The final towel I tightened into a spiral for self defense.
I found Silver Shark, Citra, and Rhonda all surrounding Qiang. My daughter held a box between both hands. The top of it had fallen open toward me and I read the phrase “Hold your hands on the markers for the surprise!”
I started to ask what was going on until I realized Qiang was shaking. One second I was in the hallway, the next I was by all of them at the door. Qiang looked up at me. “Mommy what is it? It said to pick it up?”
I looked down at the digital timer inside the box. It was made of a black composite material, with two things sticking up that could have been shortwave antennae until one of the tips began to glow and turned to point at me. The other light up with a hologram of a dark silhouette. “Psychopomp Gecko. The glorious apparatus will negotiate with your successor.”
The Three Hares, those slimy sons of parakeets.
“Just hold onto it… let me look.” I checked it over from various angles, then popped an eye out and eased it down between the bomb and the box. While it had pressed against the sides of the box with either pressure sensors or fingerprint scanners, there wasn’t anything like that on the other sides. “How are your arms, sweety?” I asked as I popped the eye back in.
“They huuurt!” Qiang whined.
I nodded. “I nee you to keep your hands there, but we can set them it down on something. Let’s just sit you down, ok?”
She nodded and I guided her over to a little table in the living room where she could sit down and rest herself and her arms. “A person can be perfectly strong, but holding something out in front of you with arms extended makes anybody tired quick. It’s- no, we’ll discuss Tai Chi later. What we have here is a small example of an implosive-explosive sub-molecular device. Not a big deal at all, I promise y’all.”
It was the size that was so astonishing. Excellent miniaturization. The thing wasn’t round, but it was a couple baseballs in size.
It seemed like a longshot, but I reached in with a finger and pressed it to what I’d identified as a crucial computerized part of the initiation sequence. A lot of these explosives, it’s really a matter of chemistry and physics. Fire or water can set stuff off, or simple kinetics. It often just depends on which chemicals are used in the process. Even an atomic bomb isn’t that complicated of a weapon. My ability to bond with computers would be useless against Little Boy, for instance.
The difference here is that this thing had sensors rigged up, and a timer. I’d have just put a timer on to scare someone while the thing detonated whenever I wanted. This person put one on to tell me I had five minutes to fix the problem.
When I linked up with it, I found that an internal mechanism was capable of reading when the timer reached zero to activate an internal explosive driving… ya know, unless I want this censored in that dimension, I should probably keep the specifics to myself. Don’t want Optimal Outer Control getting in trouble for teaching people how to build a nuclear weapon, regardless of the availability of plutionium over there.
Regardless, the flaw wasn’t in the fundamental function of the bomb, but in how it was meant to be triggered. The sensors on the side were fingerprint scanners, which meant they specifically targeted my daughter out of a desire to die by having as much of their body shoved up their own ass as humanly possible. They would trigger the explosives that would initiate the fission reaction if released. Otherwise, the timer would make it all happen.
It was actually pretty simple to trick the computer in there into increasing the amount of time and holding onto a false positive for the scanners. “Ok, hon, you can take your hands off.”
“You promise nothing bad will happen?” my crying daughter asked.
Oh, something bad will happen to someone for this. “Mommy promises.”
Qiang pulled her hands away quickly, then started jumping and screaming in relief when nothing happened. I managed to put the bomb into shutdown mode, then disconnected and called up the Institue of Science. Dr. Creeper practically flew. Actually, he completely flew. I heard him roar in on an old-fashioned rocketpack that looked like if Wile E. Coyote joined the Third Reich. “I vill personally deliver zis to a secure room for decommissioning, my lady,” he announced.
I leaned in to whisper so no one else would hear. “Make sure the room can contain a nuclear bomb. This one’s crude and small, but still.”
He nodded, tucked the bomb under one arm, raised a fist to the air, and blasted off again.
“There goes trouble,” said Silver Shark as she watched the trail of his rocket power through the air.
“Make it double,” I said flatly.
“Are you alright?” she asked, looking at me. “I expected you to be pissed, or to go laughing mad.”
“I’m fine, Sharky,” I said, cracking my fingers and walking back in. Even when I hugged my girl to me, the cold rage in me refused to yield.
I’ll get peace when the Three Hares rest in it. All of them.
Micro-managing my island is fun and all, but I’m missing all the fun stuff. Despite being a dictator, it’s considered bad form to just kill any of my citizens I’d like. I CAN, of course. Even the Directory’s pretty well gutted at this point. Security, Intel, and the military are all my guys. But it still benefits me not to be a malevolent dictator. Follow along here. If I’m an asshole, that spreads a lot more resentment than necessary and I get people willing to cooperate with coups and assassination attempts. If I keep everyone poor and without the basics, that opens me up to Robin Hood situations.
Machiavelli once asked if it was better to be feared or loved. In The Prince, he concluded that it was better to be feared. He was also a proponent of democracy who argued that the tyrant to be feared should live within a conquered city and arm the citizens of the city. I’m not listening to Machiavelli on this one. I’m just a feared assassin and dictator living in the city I conquered while allowing my people free access to all kinds of goods being smuggled or shipped through- FUCK!
Well, all the more reason not to piss off everyone. And all the more reason to put tiny machines I can control into the water supply.
I think it’s pretty clear I’ve gotten antsy waiting around. Y’all see it. Max has noticed it. Holly actually approached me one day asking if I had any fairy dust to sprinkle on her and help her fly, so she definitely noticed.
I tried to channel that energy toward building more stuff, Dudebot modifications, armor maintenance, etc., etc. And I didn’t take Max’s medication anymore, but I’m willing to think about it. As soon as negotiations are over.
Speaking of negotiations, I finally got word back on that. It happened while I was sitting in on a court hearing. Bank robbers helped themselves into a passing car. They forced the driver into the backseat at knifepoint and tried to escape from Security. Security laid down a tack strip at Wong Way, popped the tires, and now there was a hearing about possibly charging him as some sort of accomplice. The Imperial attorneys figured he might have brought the car along and pretended to be kidnapped to save his own skin.
I showed up to make sure the courts were working smoothly, but I think I’ll have to take a look at finding some way to keep something like this from even making it to court. The attorneys representing the Empire need a little shaking up over it, and I might implement some sort of public defender program. The guy’s just sitting there without an attorney, ignorant of arguments, procedures, motions, and all that.
The judge was quicker on the uptake than the Imperial attorneys. He banged his gavel and declared, “I am not inclined to press the matter further with someone whose only crime was being borne on the Wong side of the tacks.”
I nodded and got up to leave when I saw Barkiel standing there. One of these purple humanoid aliens of the Three Hares, he favored jeans and a denim jacket, projecting a disguise of himself as just another guy with sandy blonde hair. This time, he let the human projection fade into one that more accurately showed himself in a uniform that included a short jacket with poofy upper arms that reminded me of those fancy uniform pants, the jodhpurs.
I raised an eyebrow. Barkiel clicked his heels together and stood up straight. “I have an official announcement for Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Ricca and North Korea.”
“Can we take it outside?” I asked, quietly. Looking around, it didn’t seem anyone else had noticed the projection. I walked through the projection and the door to find a more suitable place for receiving an emmisary from a hostile group. My first thought was to sit on the nearest throne, but… fine, ok, I led him to the lobby of the courthouse. “A most unconventional audience, Barkiel.”
“Thank you for seeing me, Empress,” he said, floating over to stand in front of me and perform a formal Western-style bow. “My superiors wish for me to inform you of the receipt of your message and our desire to meet with you and representatives of the other belligerents.”
“As it happens, my island is a great place to have such a meeting. Here, in the Directory Building, in a week.” I tapped my toe on the floor, figuring the impatience and annoying sound might mess with Barkiel.
He kept his voice calm and downright monotone as he responded, “Your island is unacceptable. We suggest Jerusalem as an alternative.”
I shook my head. “First, that’s insulting to my island. You should go outside and apologize. Second, that’s not happening. Just about the only thing Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in that city can all agree on is that I’m not allowed there anymore. Which is really stupid, because I was Pope once. That changed before I could do anything about the kid-fucking too, and the world’s worse off for it.”
Barkiel tried not to laugh. “We need a neutral location. We propose Switzerland.”
I was going to propose Mu, but Switzerland isn’t too bad… “The Island of Mu.”
“You maintain a client state on that neutral location. Should you agree to a meeting in the public square of Place du Bourg-de-Four in Geneva, we would be willing to acquiesce to your desire on the date.”
A public square isn’t a bad idea. It’d be much harder for them to pull off replacing everyone around like in that John Wick movie, and being outside gives a lot more options to get away if it’s an ambush. Plus, I can keep an eye out with satellites and even launch on the place. It’s bad form to launch missiles at Switzerland, but it’s not like they’ve helped any of the major world powers out in a war lately. The thing about neutrals is that they have enough sympathy to your cause not to attack you themselves, but they’re more than happy to stand by and watch your enemy throw your corpse in a ditch.
I nodded to him, “You bring your leaders, we bring ours. And we meet in a week, when the autumnul equinox has brought me to my full power.
No matter what, my preparations shouldn’t take too much longer, but I have to have time for Titan and Venus. So a week from when we talked: September 24th. And the part about the equinox is just a straight-up lie that might put doubts into someone’s head if he tells them about it. Never be afraid to lie to your enemy… it’s kinda their fault if you’ve killed a bunch of their people already and they choose to believe whatever you say.
Barkiel didn’t stay to goad me into anything. I think someone had a way of keeping an eye on him, because that alien’s been helping me take down his people. Well, technically he’s been helping me kill off the divine part of the Three Hares. He even helped me escape from them. I don’t know what game he’s playing, but I know he’s not entirely opposed to me succeeding.
I immediately sent off a transcript of the conversation to Titan and Venus and called up everyone to check on how we were doing. Still no vaccine. The island shield seemed to do well, but they found some more issues when testing it. Something about regulating the flow of electricity and concerns about heating. They’re working on it. It’s not the first shield the Riccan Institute of Science has dealt with, even with the post-Claw brain drain. It should be ready in case anything goes down when I decapitate the Hares.
But first, it was off to dinner with Citra. My poor wife has gone through a lot. Not labor, ok, but she used to be my maid, then her mother and I had sex and I agreed to marry her, then married another woman and made her pretend to be that woman for awhile. Such is not the origin of a happy marriage, but I’m at least trying not to be a complete asshole.
So I took her out. I’d wanted to get all dressed up and go to this fancy place, but a little bit of Max’s beer prompted me to get the novel idea of asking her what she wanted to do. “Dance with me,” she said. And so instead of fancy dressing up that I enjoyed, we threw on skimpy clothes and went out to this dark club with pounding beats. I don’t normally dress like that, as I’m a villain in the streets and a freak in the sheets.
It was there in the club I discovered my wife is considered something of a hotty. Or at least a lot of the guys thought so when they saw her in a leather skirt and stripper heels. Which, if I’m not mistaken, explains where my pair disappeared to. We should really go shoe shopping together.
Stripping can be good exercise, and you never know when you’ll need to fight using poles. Plus, the heels are really good for inserting into enemy weak spots, like eyes or urethras. I have trouble getting them in on the first swing, but I am known for my dogged persistence. And doggy-style insistence. Which explains why Citra preferred to dance up on me from behind and whisper in my ear, “I got a new strap-on.”
I wrapped my arms around hers, holding her hands and keeping her close to me. “I’m a poor excuse for a husband.”
We danced way too slow for a place with a spinning discoball that helped reflect multicolored lights through the black lights of the dance floor.
“You’re my wife though,” she said, whispering in my ear before giving the lobe a little nibble. “Evil supervillain Psycho Gecko is concerned about taking time off for her wife.”
“I may be sleeping around, but this is supposed to be a partnership between you and I, but I’ve forced you into roles you were never prepared for. Mother to a child you didn’t want or ask for. Wife to one of the most hated people on Earth. Empress to a nation you were a servant in. You’ve had no say in this, and that’s not what I want. So, to once again drag out that most interesting of questions… what do you want?”
I felt her press a kiss against my hair where it covered the back of my neck, then return to my ear, speaking a little louder to be heard over a new song that started up. “I’d like to go to college and be the second best Empress on Earth. And I want to have you all to myself. And I want to put a baby in you.”
That brought a raised eyebrow. “I can think of two ways that last one’s possible right now, and I have to warn you that I’m not into unbirthing.”
She giggled in my ear. “Max has some ideas about that provided you don’t give your daughter and her best friend a baby half sister first.”
I rolled my eyes and leaned back against her. “Just not a lot of guys I feel that way about… and the thought DID occur to me. It felt symmetrical in a freaky way.”
“Mhm, I bet.” I let her turn me around to face her. The face I saw wasn’t hers. It was Dame’s. “Maybe this is the woman you would like a baby with?” She held up her phone and pressed a button, at which point her face began to change again through what I recognized as nanite plastic surgery. After a few seconds, she had Venus’s face. “Or her?”
I smiled in a crooked, skeptical sort of way. “You really don’t want me messing around anymore, do you?”
She winked at me, then noticed something over my shoulder. Her smile faded. “It’s Wong.”
“I mean, if we both agreed I could do it, it wouldn’t be, but clearly that’s not the case here.”
She pointed over my shoulder. I turned to see one of the Directors I recently sent home on indefinite leave. It was him and a half dozen other guys with Uzi pistols and swords that looked like short machetes with handguards, known colloquially as butterfly swords.
I broke into the DJ’s computer and made an alteration to the playlist. The crowd were understandaly confused when the song changed to “Danger! High Voltage” by Electric Six. I kept dancing along with Citra as irritated people left the floor, making plenty of room for Wong and his gang to surround me, illuminated by the colored lights from the discoball spinning overhead.
I pushed Citra down my body. Lower, lower… until she was safely on her knees while I faked moans.
“I knew if I watched, you would make a wrong move,” announced Wong.
“Oh yeah. Right there. There, there, there, oh my ME!” I yelled, raising my face and firing my eye laser. The discoball redirected the laser all over the club and the men who came to voice their vociferous opposition to my tyranny, frying them and catching parts of the club on fire.
I laughed as Citra stood up and checked out the corpses. “As hot as this has been, it’s kinda dead on the dance floor now.”
She smiled and took my hand to lead me off to a night of spousal fun, telling me, “I don’t want to set the world on fire. I just want to start a flame in your heart.”
The Munich raid went well. The point of the thing was to blow a hole in that big ol’ privacy fence around their compound. The Germans are investigating it now, and finding all sorts of weird things scattered around. Drugs, a couple of stolen artifacts, uranium; all sorts of things that will draw a lot of attention to that compound and have people investigating. Expose them, force them to run again, exhaust them.
I’d had… feelings. Thinking of a plan, part of me remembered all the kids and innocents there. Attacking would risk killing civilians, even if a lot of them do have powers. I lived among them, danced with them. I drank beer with them and perhaps even Frenched one or two of them under the influence. I spent a night rocking back and forth in a chair, thinking about what to do. I was practically distraught.
But now, I had video showing they were all ok. The local news reporters provided that glimpse, but I quite enjoyed the view from various drones flying high above it. Can’t blow shit up in Europe without a few different militaries becoming interested. So seeing everyone come out of this fine and dandy, it was such a relief. Such a relief, I started laughing. And, my oh my, it seems my finger slipped on a button in the middle of all my laughter. Looks like someone shouldn’t send up drones for recon with their payloads.
It was so sad, I had to laugh about it. It’s a natural way to handle this sort of bad news, after all. Laugh so as not to cry.
If the cruel fate of the Munich compound wasn’t enough, the Hares themselves are playing on my emotions. I’ve letters expressing the feelings of the Three Hares. The night of the bombing, for instance. I got up to handle some business in the bathroom. I was going over plans for a new island shield and crapping when the jacuzzi began rattling. The nozzles burst out into the tub and streams of water stretched out and formed into a person, a woman with a metal visor with a single big, round glass eye on it and gems on either side.
“Psycho Gecko! Prepare to die!”
I put aside the hologram I was working with and reached for the rear of the toilet. “May I at least have a courtesy flush first?”
“I guess?” she said. Small gems began to light up leading to the glass eye, three on either side. I reached back behind the toilet. As I’ve mentioned before I often keep a gun there in order to clear up any problematic clogs. That’s why I whipped out the Smith & Wesson Schofield. I missed that first shot, causing the cyclopean assassin before me to duck and charge more of those gems up. Another miss, then a hit on her shoulder. When she turned, the final gems lit up, and that’s when I popped her in the central glass eye.
“Fuck shit!” she screamed, grabbing at the eye. I dove off, pulling my panties up. I wasn’t there when she took her hands away and instead shot lasers from the six gems leading up the glass eye. Three smaller beams shot out, putting holes in the marble toilet. But since these were three all along a band, beams were flying all over the place. They bounced off mirrors and mirrored surfaces, so it’s a good thing I was staying low and crawling behind her. When she stopped and looked around, I tackled her from behind and pushed her down.
She cracked her chin pretty good on the lip of the toilet where the seat didn’t cover. I grabbed a handful of her hair and pushed her face down into the bowl to let her gurgle on dinner. I had the Schofield still in hand and gave her a shot in the back. Then I lost my grip on her as she turned to liquid again and flowed down the toilet, flushing it in the process. I jumped up and pointed the Schofield down the bowl, then noticed the blood smeared on me and smiled with an idea. I wiped blood onto my hand and pushed it into the toilet bowl, making a minor programming change.
The pipes in the jacuzzi, toilet, sink, and shower began to rattle. A huge chunk of the room shook. Blood began to spurt from the sink. It started to fill the jacuzzi. The shower head shot off as bloody water rained down. Finally, the toilet reversed and sprayed water and blood all over the ceiling.
When those of the household who cared about my health came running, they found me laughing and soaking wet with blood and water. I shut the bathroom door as I saw Max and Silver Shark run up.
“What’s going on?” Max asked.
I pointed at the door in all my giggling, then waved my hand. “You don’t wanna go in there. Whew!” I couldn’t hardly finish speaking for all the laughter.
Speaking of funny incidents, another occurred as I was enjoying a quiet night in my study, just working on some new material for this joke I’m playing on the world. Mix N’Max walked in and passed right by me to address a chair. “Gecko, you’re doing it again.”
Dame fell to the floor as I awoke and she scampered out of there. I yawned and looked up at Max from my chair. “Whoopsy. Can you blame me for making sure an extra pair of eyes watched out as I slept?”
“I can blame you if they’re her eyes. Look, Gecko, we go back and I’m afraid I have to suggest something is more wrong than usual with you,” he knelt down in front of me to look me in the eye. Even his smile looked apologetic.
“I must use any and all resources to protect myself, Max. It’s the way of the world. Besides, I’m rehabilitating Dame,” I indicated his grin. “So turn that lack of a frown upside and around.”
“How is holding a woman as a slave in her own body rehabilitation? You’re better than this,” he told me.
“I AM better than this. I’m so good, I made Dame perfectly trustworthy. Never again can she betray me for anyone. Always there, in her mind. THAT’s why they wanted me. The world’s changing, and I’m like a god of the new world order.”
“You’re not a god,” Max said, pointing his finger at me. “Remember the rule on godhood.”
I rolled my eyes. “When someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes. Everyone knows the Aykroyd Rule.”
“No, the other rule. The one about supervillains who start declaring themselves gods. Does that ever end well?”
He held up one finger. “Nebuchadnezzar.”
“Gesundheit,” I said.
He cocked his head to the side in a look that said “Really?” even though he didn’t.
“Fine, tried to consume a ball of energy bigger than his own head a little too fast. Blew up.”
Max raised a second finger. “Aria.”
“Used a device to boost her powers, but someone managed to block them long enough and record her super voice to use it against her,” I answered.
“Following the pattern?” he asked.
“Technically it isn’t a pattern until there’s three incidents,” I reminded him.
Max looked at me, lowered the first two fingers, and raised the third one, the ring finger. “You want to be this one?”
“That’s hardly-” and then I shot up into space without crashing through roofs or walls. And it wasn’t really space. I’ve been there. I was being thrown with force instead of drifting without gravity.
I crashed into an asteroid and was thrown at another nearby one while the first one broke in half. The second did as well when I hit it. I bounced off and then stopped in the middle as the asteroids. Those four then crashed into each other, breaking in half. They kept colliding and breaking until a bunch of baseball- and basketball-sized pieces banged into me. Finally, one the size of a large dog slammed into me and sent me hurtling through space again. I landed on a small planet, or possibly one of those things Pluto is, and bounced off in further defiance of physics. The next planet I headed for grew a face and a pair of arms. It slapped me between both hands.
The planet on this trip through Disney’s Fantasia planetarium skipped arm day. I’ve taken worse hits. Didn’t even squeeze any organs out of me. The two arms grabbed hold of me from either side. The planet opened its mouth wide, exposing the glowing liquid hot magma. It unleashed a volcanic roar.
“Get some Jupiter!” I yelled back as it lunged for me.
Then I was laying down on the floor of the study, yelling at the ceiling, which looked to be missing a ceiling fan. I noticed books laying around and crawled off a broken chair. I found Max wobbling from side to side with a pencil-thick needle in hand, standing over a woman in a green catsuit who was foaming at the mouth.
“How’d you see through all that?” I asked. “I think I got beat up by a solar system.”
“Oh Gecko. Precious, vanilla Gecko,” Max said. He winked at me, then looked back down at the catsuit woman. “She has the Three Hares on the back in a shade of green barely lighter than the primary coloring.”
I staggered over to confirm it. “Another damn assassin. I think I need to send a message back to the Hares.”
“You’re mad with power and determined to kill them all. What do they have to lose in sending killers after you?” he pointed out. “That’s something else I wanted to talk to you about. Here, help me with the body.”
“She’s still dying,” I said.
“Give it time,” Max said, bending down to grab her by the feet. I took her shoulders and helped, with us stopping in mid-carry for Max to spray some air freshener when she shat herself in the throes of death. Outside, I saw a lot of the rest of the place jumbled up, with Citra and staggering around.
“Where’s Qiang?” I asked her.
She pointed upstairs. “In bed. Are we safe?”
I stopped beside her as we carried the dead woman around and kissed my wife on the cheek. “Safer than those who attacked us.” Then it was off to see to the respectful treatment of the dead.
We dropped the corpse onto a table in Max’s suite while Sam and Holly recovered with some drinks. “What you’ve told me about their isolation and heredity, the Hares’ DNA could provide amazing insight into superpowers as they relate to genetics,” Max observed.
“Plus, you want to do things with her beautiful corpse,” I added.
He patted her boots. “You know I only care about what’s on the inside. Pass me the scalpel?”
I tossed it to him and started cutting the woman free of her clothes for the autopsy. “I guess I’ve been a bit screwed up. They took my memories from me, and they’re mine. But for that brief time, I was clear of every fucked-up thing of my past. It was… clean. I had morals, and ethics, and I think even a conscience. The did it to use me somehow, and then that whole thing. It reminded me of Elizabeth, back in the other world. And a phrase Venus has been using lately.”
“Oh?” Max asked. He stepped closer to start carving into the sternum. “What’s that?”
“I’d rather not say, but it was the closest thing to washing away so much of what keeps me from changing and being better.” I looked down, which had me staring into the eyes of the corpse.
“It’s tempting,” Max commented.
I nodded. “Even for us. Sometimes the most dangerous thing you can do to someone is show them another way. A ‘what if?’ scenario.”
“I like to take the wrong lesson from my enemies,” Max said, peering inside the woman’s chest cavity. “They had more of an endgame than killing you. What’s your endgame besides killing them? Right now, you’re like a dog chasing a car. You wouldn’t know what to do with it if you,” he paused and took his hands out of the woman’s chest to pantomime catching something in midair. “Caught it. What do you want the world to look like at the end of this that doesn’t involve you trying to claim you’re a god?”
“Good question,” I leaned on my elbow, looking down into the woman’s eyes, my eyes taking the same turquoise tint.
Venus was kind enough to offer me the hospitality of the Master Academy while I waited on my ride. After everything that happened, we all agreed I needed access to as many showers and fresh clothes as possible. Plus, and she didn’t actually state this, I think she was worried about all the laughing I’d been doing. Couldn’t help myself. It kinda had to do with the intersection of Gecko and Tripura. She was so nice, and she was me.
Too bad she had to kill. I just can’t catch a break, even when I don’t know hardly anything. But she killed to save an entire city, except for that part when she murdered someone for being a dick to her. The ratio of assholes to innocents makes it clear how much better a person she was. I could try and argue something about tabula rasa, but most people have really weird ideas about that. Like, they think being born with genetic preferences that can change over time somehow means the mind is born with knowledge. You know, because we should really call a baby’s inborn preference for cinnamon at birth “knowledge”.
Eh, this Earth will grow out of that at some point, maybe realize that a stream bed’s curves determine what path the water travels, but it’s not a stream without the fluid.
This sounds nice, but part of the reason I was tittering to myself so much is my ability to recall the name of that thingy on the table that salt falls out of. A mind is a terrible thing to lose, and now I’ve got mine back. And so many things are being reevaluated that it’s caused me the legitimate giggles, and some instances of laughing to spite the alternative.
It disturbed everyone around Master Academy West. They sat me in a common room with, like dark woods and a tv and books all around. If it was a social spot, it wasn’t after I got there. So I kept staring off into space, comparing memories, reconciling things, and catching up on the news. Like, seriously evolutionary psychologists? A paper about why the Jews are genetically predisposed to dominate the world? No wonder the brownshirts are marching.
In the middle of sitting down, arms around my legs, laughing my head off to myself in a dark room with the lights turned off, I noticed a guy arguing with Venus. “How long is she staying here?”
That snapped me out of my thousand-yard stare. “Hey, stop assuming my-”
“She’s a criminal, a murderer, a- a- I don’t even know what she’s committed so many crimes. And she’s transphobic,” said the teen boy to Venus.
“I’m not transphobic. There are very few people I hate more than I hate almost every one of you damn humans,” I said.
The guy actually responded. “I don’t hear you dropping the N-word or any other racial slurs.” He walked into the room, staring at me. A bit androgynous and chubby, with a wide nose that almost makes me think it’d been smooshed as a kid.
I grabbed him and pulled him onto my lap, cradling him with four arms. “It’s ok there. Shh, shh, shh. Let me tell you a little story.”
“Gecko, let him go,” Venus said. I held up a finger.
“Just a quick story and he goes free unharmed, deal?” I asked.
From my lap came the teen, “I’d rather just go if I have any say in this.”
I patted him on the head. “Hush, Venus is speaking for you.”
“You promise not to harm anyone? This is just a story?” she asked.
I nodded a bunch. “I wouldn’t dare hurt the snuggly little Master Academy students here.” I gave the student a shake. The wind picked up in the room and blew some curtains a bit too much to be the AC. “It’s just a brief story of an assassin who learned how to use medical nanomachines to perform reconstructive surgery to alter the assassin’s looks. Colors were easy, adjusting flesh and cartilage as well. Muscles, harder, bones harder still. So many things were changed… face, hair color, eye color, even skin color. And in all that time, nobody who knew the assassin’s identity questioned anything about the assassin’s personality over the fact that the assassin changed appearances so often.”
“That’s not strictly true,” Venus spoke up.
I blew her a raspberry, then continued. “Then one day the assassin grows a bodacious pair of boobs and starts wearing skirts. Suddenly, everybody starts wondering if they should call the assassin something different over THIS change. THIS change was unusual. This change caused them to worry about the assassin’s mental state more than usual.” I chuckled at that part. “The assassin just changes and doesn’t think much of it. The assassin thinks it’s stupid to assume anything off about a person just because they want to be a woman.”
I pushed the teen off my lap. “Story time’s over kid. Now get out of here.”
The tean dusted himself off and looked at me. “Inside, what do you feel you are?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. I’m always just me, no matter what.” I closed my eyes and sat back, hoping they’d get out of my long, beautiful hair.
Venus ushered the teen out, then turned to me. “Maybe it would help you with all your self-loathing. That can be a sign, you know.”
I waved dismissively. “Not all that important right now. But thanks for the tampons and the brief tutorial.” I opened an eye just to wink at her.
“I know about your self-loathing. Do us all a favor and find a version of yourself that’s happier. And just because changing sex isn’t a big deal to you doesn’t mean it’s a small thing for someone to be made whole on this Earth, you douchecanoe.” Venus crossed her arms as she looked at me.
“If you hate me so much, if the world’s better off without me, why save me?” I asked her, leaning forward, and maybe squeezing the gals a bit for better viewing. She’s not immune to boobs. Hell, these days, the power of boobs reaches far beyond men to all sorts of genders. “Not like anyone there knew what was happening. You could have let me die.”
“We have this talk a lot, but I refuse to go through life believing the best way to solve my problems is to kill everyone,” she said.
I cocked my head to the side, “But isn’t saving me a way of condoning my actions, especially when I kill people like The Claw?”
She shook her head. “Your choices are your choices, but I’ll always hold out hope for you, and I’ll always be here if you want to change. It’s never too late.”
Ugh. It’s like she’s got a psychic around to figure out the best way to annoy me. Oh, right, she’s fucking the only surviving psychic to be in my head. I was more than happy when the Psycho Flyer arrived with an honor guard of soldiers in power armor. We made quite the sight, Psycho Gecko walking up a ramp flanked by Riccan soldiers while a force of Master Academy heroes stood guard.
One long, long, long ass trip later that involved a stopover in Mu for refueling, the Flyer passed right over the military base and landed between the Palace Residence and the Directory Legislature building. The Directors were quite curious to see what all the hub bub was about, and were surprised when the soldiers lined up and I stepped out in my armor. Not a copy, or a replica. Not a Dudebot. Me and my armor.
One of the Directors was pushed by his comrades to come meet me. “Empress, we weren’t aware you were away. We have been denied news and prevented from an audience.” He quickly bowed.
My bow wasn’t so deep, but then I’m the Empress. “It was necessary, unfortunately. If it’s any consolation, I’ve missed y’all too and I’ll be more than happy to provide more information after I meet with my family.”
I maintained a properly dignified dictator-walk until I reached the stairs to the Palace Residence. That was when Qiang got loose and came running down the steps to meet me. I pulled my daughter up in a four-armed hug and carried her up to the top of the stairs where I pulled in Citra, my (politically-motivated) wife. Then Mix N’Max, Silver Shark, everyone I could grab. Even that friend of Qiang’s, Kayla, and her parents who I’ve banged.
I got the 411 inside while snuggling Qiang. Max had a whole presentation lined up, starting with the slide, “Infiltrators, Detainment and Punishment, A Play In Three Parts”
“You may be wondering what we did with Dame, the woman you informed us was made to look like you,” Max said. “First step, identification.” The first slide after the start showed photos of the crowd all photoshopped to wear different clothes. Sam Hain, Max’s assistant, looked very pretty in Citra’s dress. Another slide showed a picture of me labeled “fake” either hugging or kissing.
“Second step, capture,” Max said. The next slide showed Sam’s head pasted to the body of a black lingerie model, perhaps to make it obvious this isn’t Sam’s body. Then a cage falls on the fake me. Then there’s a trapdoor, followed by a picture of an alligator, a school of piranhas, and a train.
“This movie sucks,” I said. “The pacing’s terrible, the acting’s subpar, and what’s with this sound design? Nobody knows how to hold a boom?” Max, ever-present grin on his face, flashed me the middle finger.
I held up one of my own toward him, then made a circle with some fingers and moved it up and down around the middle finger.
“Ahem,” said Holly, the preppier of Max’s assistants. “I worked really hard on this, and would appreciate if you paid attention.”
I didn’t pay much attention to the punishment stuff. More photoshopping, along with stills from movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Passion Of The Christ. “Bottom line,” I asked once we reached the end, “Where is she?”
Max sighed and clicked on to a last slide that said, “TL;DR, she’s in the military base.”
“Thank you,” I said, standing up. I hugged Qiang to myself, then set her down. “I’ll be back in a bit, sweetest of hearts. Mommy has to go see the bad lady.”
And I did. The men, human and Deep One alike, were happy to have me back. They showed me down to a special room, one that’d be hard to find for anyone not familiar with the holding cells. Recently, I’d been the one sitting in a darkened room, with a circle of light. She knelt in the circle, arms and legs held to the floor. She was covered by a thin white dress, barely more than a scrap. I could practically see through it.
I stepped up and pulled out a can of spray cheese. “Wakey, wakey, dearest Dame.”
She looked up wearing a copy of my face. She started to say something, but I filled her mouth with cheese so cheap. I had to find the can in a flop house by the dock where sailors passing helped themselves to a high while they were on the island. “I don’t know how much they’re feeding you. I assume some food’s involved. Wow, I know how to put together a body shape, don’t I?”
She fought to get through the cheese. Since she had nothing to say, I kept on going. “This whole game of spy versus spy and who is better at planning and counterplanning, it’s just needlessly complicated and annoying. Never knowing who to trust… it’s just no fun. So today, I make you a promise. If you cooperate, I won’t kill you. Won’t order you killed or anything like that.”
“Your guards beat the shit out of me every day,” she growled through cheese.
I patted her on the head. “And they’ll stop now because you’re going to be my own personal project.”
Her eyes fluttered and she shook her head. “Whaaaaa-why is everything… doing that?” She looked all around.
I knelt and stroked my lookalike’s hair. “It’s just the nanites, dear. I made sure you only go the best cheese.” I held up the can and shook it, smiling under my mask as if she could see it. Then I sighed. “Not quite so fun knowing what’s going to happen.”
“What are you doing?” she asked, kneeling forward, trying to rest her head on the floor.
I rubbed her head sat beside her, moving her head into my lap as the nanites set to work. “I don’t like where your mind’s at, so I’m changing it. Making a few alterations where I can. Looks like you’ve got that little disease that can inhibit superpowers too, even if you use a gadget for your fun. I had a lot of time on my flight to review everything we know about Unity, the same drug they used to make me thing I wasn’t me. Same drug I bet you were trying to steal from Ricca when they first captured you. Neural pathways to access long-term and short-term memory. Funny thing is, it’s entirely possible to start using these nanites to replace parts of a brain with a, what do you call it, cybernetic alternative. There may be a few hiccups, but that’s why I’m trying this trick on you instead of someone I care about.” Here I felt a little bit of Tripura tug at me. Dame started to scream until I forced her to stop via well-placed nanites.
I leaned in to whisper to Dame. “You know, I felt so normal and innocent there thanks to what your people did to me. Then I get my memory back. All of it. Poor Tripura… but that time gave me so many wonderful ideas about how to deal with you, them, and any other problems that come up. Losing my mind has been incredibly refreshing; I highly recommend it.”
I stood up. “Don’t worry about screaming. You got a mouth, but you won’t be able to. New process like this, I told it to take it’s time. A couple of days and I’m sure whatever you’re feeling will go away. Or you’ll suffer brain damage. Either way, I’ll be back later to pick your brain.” I stopped and waved my hands, jazz hands style. “I’m thinking something old school, maybe wrinkly, but cute and… ya know, pink’s a great color.”
I giggled at her shaking her head and waved it off. “Oh, don’t worry about your silly opinions. I’ll replace those later.”
Woot! What comes before Part B? Part A!
The whole damn island’s having itself a good time to celebrate the birthday of my little baby girl, complete with an impromptu parade from the palace to the Cape Diem compound. When the first fireworks went off, Max took cover and I grabbed the nearest object, a painting off the wall, and prepared to beat wholesale ass with it.
“Watch it, Cinderella,” said Sam said from over by the living room windows. “It’s just fireworks.”
Citra moved up to take my arm and squeeze my hand in both of hers. “Yeah, it better be,” I said, before tossing the painting to the side and checking to make sure I hadn’t ruined anything on the new dress. Qiang said princess party and the tailor did his best to accommodate her wishes for a special dress to wear. It was a Western dress, very much in keeping with the Disney movies that I’ve been known to throw at her, but not any specific one. I told the tailor to make her Moana, Mulan, any of them she asked for. Disney’s not as anal about what constitutes a princess as I am, but my daughter can damn well dress as whoever she pleases.
Instead, she went with a darker pink with lots of frills up and down the front, and her own tiara. With my approval, the tailor went easy on the tiara. Most people don’t realize it, but wearing a lump of gold and gemstones on your head is hard work. Royals build up to that over like weeks or days leading up to official events. So Qiang’s tiara is better than a flimsy gold tiara. It’s durable, light, and gilded.
My own number resembled hers, except I went with a vibrant green that probably looks more at home in Rio during Carnivale, and had a little more space to hide my second pair of arms. If it hadn’t been for all these outsiders, I’d let them out. But I always gotta keep something in reserve when my nemesis is around.
While I was picking at it and making sure Qiang had hers all together, Citra took one look out the window and suggested, “Why do we not make a small parade?” I really should look into what the transit system’s like on this island. Damn delegation. Regardless, I know plenty of things fall off the back of a container ship around here, so I called up my guys in our local police force. They helped a car dealer clear a little space for more merchandise. It’s good for ’em, helps them rotate the inventory.
So my family had a parade of sorts. Nothing all that special to it, only Max was throwing treats at the crowd, and I didn’t really feel the need for security. Anybody who fucked up my dress was going to get a high heel up the urethra. And if they messed something up for Qiant? Oh, even a cyanide pill wouldn’t save them. I’d bring them back to life, and then I’d really fuck ’em up.
While I was keeping an eye out, Citra actually hopped out of our slow procession and carried Qiang down with her. I hopped out after them as they greeted some of the visitors. “What are you doing?” I asked her.
“A princess should meet her subjects, and I think it is good for us,” she said.
I narrowed my eyes at her briefly before stopping myself. We were approaching another group who were getting all respectful and bowing. I stepped back and watched as Citra asked after them, how they were doing, other such platitudes. Empty stuff. Might as well ask how the weather is for all we can do about it. But they liked it. And not just them.
“You want to walk some, Qiang?” I asked the birthday girl.
“Yeah, Baba. I can ride in the car again when I’m tired. I get to be a princess!” She was hopping up and down and running along, eager to follow Citra’s example. As for me, I suppose I can’t fault her for having a will of her own. She is still another separate person, if one thrust into position and events far beyond what her life intended. Chaos can certainly be a ladder, or a pit. So while they were all smiles and spreading good Imperial cheer among my people, I kept a close eye out in case someone decided they wanted to hurt the Empress Regnant on our way to the Cape Diem compound.
Now, even though I was fully prepared to let visitors to my world come in peace, even provide an escort to me, the leader, it turns out the Master Academy people worked something out with Cape Diem. I didn’t see anything change hands, but Cape Diem’s whole portal deal with the UN isn’t something they’d risk losing. I wonder what the cost is for using the world’s only portal network to bring a bunch of kids to a birthday party on an island run by a supervillain. I suppose there are benefits for neutrality. But it’s neutrality that goes both ways.
My minions helped prepare everything, payment being they get to enjoy the party too. As my prior discussion of the cake ratio shows, I put a lot of thought into bribing people with food, fun, and bouncy houses. That even includes the guard detail who escorted the various princesses from the pink castle they temporarily called home. All of them formed a receiving line for my daughter on her way to the cake.
The cake itself loomed over the party like a small castle all its own. It was too big for the compound itself. It’s bad hat to kick your guests out of their own home by bringing in such a giant cake. People mostly contained themselves until we got there, at which point Qiang lost her shit with high-pitched squeals of delight and ran off into a throng of her friends who were being held back by their chaperones from Master Academy. We managed to separate them and, before everything devolved into the inevitable entropic pack of playing people, I let Qiang see all the various princesses. She was excited to meet them, and luckily they’d all calmed down a great deal. Something about being in public, with superheroes around, knowing they were going to be set free, and that this was all about my daughter’s birthday party.
Finally, barely able to contain her excitement and glee, it was time for my daughter to stand in front of her cake. And like all great cakes, it required men with flamethrowers hanging from flyers in order to light the candles. Ok, so required isn’t so accurate a term for lighting five candles. Let me think… fun? Awesome? Nevertheless, she stood there in front of a lower part ready to be cut and served to people. Then I unleashed the real humiliation. “Ok, time to sing Happy Birthday!”
Once I’d finished completely embarrassing her with the help of her friends and a huge crowd of strangers, she finally got a piece of cake, and then servants made sure everyone got cake who wanted it, including themselves. And from there, people mingled, people ate, people played games. I even caught this minotaur-looking super from Master Academy snorting in frustration as he kept missing at the clown dunk. The clown itself had a white face, a big forehead, and red hair. He’d also do this little dance in between throws, glaring right at the minotaur.
And it seemed to go ok. It was more like a big fair for a pretty good amount of time. Heroes and villains and me and my family all mingling. It was almost normal. It felt weird, like I should pick a fight just to have something to do. Fucking ball just wouldn’t hit the target and dunk the clown. I swear, that big-shoed bastard did something to the balls. While missing yet again, and ducking a cream pie thrown in retaliation, I noticed Venus.
It struck me as odd that we’d avoided each other so far. Unless she was avoiding me, which is a crazy thing to think. No, unless she was PLOTTING against me. That’s a sane thing to think. So I went over to where she was looking after some of the kids. “So, what horrifying thing are you going to do now in the name of being a good person?” I asked.
“Watching kids play on a happy day. How are you planning to be an asshole and justify it because other people in the world do bad things?” she asked right back, giving me a forced, closed smile.
“I dunno, figured I’d send missionaries to teach starving kids in Africa the joys of cannibalism.” My smile was more genuine, as was my amusement.
Venus wasn’t so amused. Doesn’t mean she was offended, she just didn’t like me. She turned her head suddenly, checking on a kid that had fallen. One of the Master Academy kids she brought all the way here to my daughter’s party even though she hates me. I looked at her and held a hand out. “I should be a better host. Thanks for bringing everyone. This means a lot to her.”
She shook my hand, and this time the little smile tugging at her lips also tightened up her eyes. “You’re welcome. She’s a wonderful girl. She’s worked magic on you.” After letting go of my hand, she turned to keep an eye on everything, smiling at everyone just walking around, having fun and playing games.
I shrugged. “She’s not so different from me. Orphaned, kidnapped, tortured, and trained to be more object than person. But she’s mine.” I saw a Buzzkill giving piggyback rides to refugee children. “That’s a screwed-up life she doesn’t deserve. No one does. It corrupts you, makes you want to cling to it. Makes you af- it feels more secure that way. Because once you know that’s your life, there isn’t anything that can scare you. I can do that for her, and I can destroy anyone who would hurt her.”
I turned to look at her then. Nothing like a good threat to round it out. Instead, she smiled at me. “That’s very heroic of you.”
I flinched. Couldn’t help it. “And here I thought we were playing nice.”
“You’ve become a better person,” she said. “You jumped in front of that rocket. See, I think staying with us helped you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh yeah, y’all putting in a telepathic block to stop me from swearing or killing, that’s what I really needed in my life. Y’all didn’t help that much. Well, aside from saving my life. And… ya know, it’s been awhile since I got the shakes from not killin’ someone.” I looked at her and raised an eyebrow.
She held up her hands. “We thought it would help your recovery. We weren’t going to leave you in the middle of psychological withdrawals while we kept you from murdering anyone.”
I held up a finger in front of her face. “There anything else y’all did to my brain I don’t know about? Any more secret brainwashing to make be ‘better’?”
“No, I swear.” She’d tensed up, her eyes darting past me. Well, if we were drawing attention from her friends, they’d just get to violate Cape Diem’s neutrality and the sovereignty of my nation first.
I folded my arms in front of me.”I get so many mixed messages from you, Boopsie.” Then I just left her there. I wanted to hurt her or at least yell at her. But, and this is an important thing to remember in this instance, this was about my daughter. Besides, an Empress doesn’t get mad. She gets cake. I just have to hope any feelings for her weren’t somehow the result of telepathic manipulation.
And speaking of good feelings, there were Rhonda and Leland, the parents of my daughter’s best friend from Master Academy, just waiting for me to come say hello again and remind them about that threesome they had with a murderous serial killer and Empress.
Qiang could barely able to stay awake long enough to see guests departing by the end of the party. We didn’t have too many who weren’t already here decide to stay the night. Kayla and her parents for sure, but it’s not like all those kidnapped princesses, including all the Marias and Maries from Belgium, wanted to stick around. Even Venus had decided she’d head back instead of take me up on my offer to stay and ease her tired muscles with a refreshing dip in my jacuzzi.
Once almost everyone had departed, though, I heard a shout. I looked to Citra, carrying my exhausted five year old in her arms. Seeing them clearly both ok, I shot the similarly-burdened parents of her best friend a wink and headed off in the direction of whatever commotion we had going on. I found a pair of Security officers holding up one of their own between them. “Something up, guys?” I asked.
The one on the man’s left shook his head. “Apologies for not bowing, Empress.”
I waved off his concerns, “Bow later, talk now.”
“Very well. He got disoriented and collapsed.” I looked him over. Sweaty, even in the lighter gear he had on, but he had a half-full canteen bottle on his belt.
“Get him to our medical tent outside the fence and tell them to contact Dr. Creeper,” I said quietly. Louder, to a nearby family carrying a kid with a balloon tied around his wrist, I said, “Just a bit of dehydration. Make sure to keep drinking water, folks.”
It was when Creeper got there, along with some of the more medically-minded staff of the Institute, that I briefed him with a simple. “We have a problem.”
The man was still disoriented, still out of it. Babbling and feverish. I continued explaining in case nobody got it, “This isn’t heat stroke. We don’t know what it is. Worse, whatever’s going on isn’t being stopped by the nanites in the water or in the dermal patches they’ve applied. We need to find out what this is.”
“We need a quarantine, especially on outsiders,” Creeper said.
Fuck. “That’s not doable. Most of the ones who were here aren’t anymore.” And the ones who are here, like a little superpowered girl and her parents, won’t look so good. “Well, let’s get to it. The sooner we figure out what’s going on, the sooner we fix it.”
I knew arriving back at the palace that this whole situation would take tact. And probably sex. Just make it seem like Rhonda and Leland are having a nice vacation here while their daughter plays with mine. That’s what I was ready for when I opened the door to the palace residence and entered, only to have to hold back a lot of cuss words.
Psychsaur, scaled and feathered psychic hero of Master Academy (and Venus’s girlfriend), was seated at the bar in the kitchen, swaying, talking with Sam and Holly. She smiled a loose, too-friendly smile and her wave to me almost dropped her from the stool. Plus, I could smell the alcohol from where I stood when she opened her mouth to say “Hey Gecko! I’m not driving home tonight, so can I sleep here?”
Section 8 Complete
Archive Begin Transmission
“When did you escape from this dimension?” Mobian asked.
I gave him the date of my D-Bomb detonation. “But you’ll need to be close. There was a force shield up around me to contain the blast.” He nodded once, thanking me, while I clung to my family. I hugged onto Qiang, probably harder than I should have. It felt like Mobian took forever to get out of there.
“Are you going to leave all your stuff in the ship?” Citra asked.
I nodded. “We need to go as soon as we can. The ship is wrecked, I think. I just need to go.”
“What’s wrong?” she asked, reaching out to stroke my hair. Qiang looked up at me, too.
“A lot of very bad shit happened to me when I was a kid. I could stop it if I wanted, but I would never have met any of you. It feels like I’m responsible for everything I went through back then now. So I want to run out there and save myself.” My HUD offered a helpful music selection from a band called Stabbing Westward that I had to decline.
“She destroyed your armor,” Citra pointed out.
I gave my armor a quick glance. I’d lost my helmet and one of my gauntlets, and the chest plating was wrecked. Fallen off, or barely clinging to the underlayer. Upon closer inspection, I could see all sorts of less obvious damage arising from the fight. The holodisc had taken a hit at some point. Venus’s armor had been able to go toe to toe with a charged up version of mine, which was impressive. It also meant some likely problems with the pseudomuscles and exoskeleton when we were punching each other’s hands. Her’s hadn’t been nearly so bulky, either. I need to steal me some of that.
And as for how I felt about finally getting her… I wish the fight went differently. At the end of the day, she’s still dead and I’m still alive, but it doesn’t sit so well with me for some reason. Though, it didn’t sit well with Venus to kill me and look where that got her. This is why a professional killer shouldn’t make it personal. I can’t help but wonder if my own obsession with her may mirror her obsession with saving me, and to similar ends…
A flash of light signaled that we’d jumped forward in time while I was distracted. The wall displayed down below us, where my old girlfriend knocked me the fuck out and left me laying next to a D-bomb. We must have been hidden from view, because nobody so much as blinked as the ship swooped down to hover close over my semi-conscious body when the force shield was activated. This time, I could see the mixed relief and worry; triumph and defeat. As much as my followers at this point had hated the way they’d been treated, I was the only one who felt as strongly about it as destroying the planet. It probably didn’t get any easier after that, but hopefully some humans were smart enough to recognize that homo machina are people too. But probably not.
When the D-Bomb went off and we were all thrown through the Universe Divide, those thoughts cleared away for a moment. It really was an amazing sight, seeing the multiverse laid out like that. Then we were hovering over the scene where the me from this point in time had arrived on the Earth where I almost sorta fit in better. Lots of things destroyed, and another me down there. As strongly as I tend to feel about there being no doppelgangers, I dunno, I’m not in a hurry to drop down and kill myself. Maybe it’s the time aspect. Maybe warnings about fucking with something that big do resonate with me. Hell, maybe I simply can’t. Something might come up to stop me just to prevent the paradox of me from the future killing the past me, which would then prevent future me from existing to kill past me.
From my perspective, the effects of messing with time travel have been ambiguous enough.
“I would have shown you the future, of the year 2033, but that period is in temporal flux at the moment,” Mobian said. He shot me a look. I scratched my eyebrow with my middle finger. “I have archives of the great war with Mot.”
“What is Mot?” asked Citra.
“A god of death,” Mobian answered.
“That story’s real?” I asked. “I guess it’d make sense for Venus’s actions, but I’d kinda been going on that just being made up to get me in the trap.”
“Mot is very real.” The walls changed around us, showing a being walking along a grassy plains. He looked like a man. Just an everyday guy. Beard, hair grown out and back in a ponytail, a slight beard. But every footstep stripped the plants and left perfect footprints of dirt. He had followers, for some reason. I guess if a guy might just kill everyone, he attracts the occasional person willing to serve them if it makes the threat stop. The surprise is that this supposed God of Death didn’t just kill them too. Suddenly, a glowing green man in a costume the colors of the American flag flew in. This one looked a lot like a guy I’d seen before, a super with a tank strapped to his back that nuked a militia base. I guess this time he decided tanks, but no tanks.
He held his hands out, then a mushroom cloud erupted, centered on the weird rippling guy. It didn’t even clear before the rippling man was flying at the nuclear man, who tried to outrun him. His target reached an arm out, and kept on reaching well past normal human limb length to grab the nuclear guy.
The nuker beat at the arm, and his skin even flared up in a brighter green, so I think he was tryting to do something. I have to assume that’s the case, because none of it made Mot stop. He pulled himself right up toward him, then collided and smacked over him like he was liquid. One moment there were two people there, then just one. Mot started to fall, then stopped. He looked at his hands, then toward an approaching group of tanks. He wiped them out with a nuclear explosion of his own, just like the guy who had disappeared into him. Then he looked back over to his followers, who were ensconced in a glowing dome of metal that retreated into the ground. None had been hurt by the blast, though that’s unlikely to be true for long unless he’s clearing away fallout.
“So he eats people and takes their powers?” I asked. “I dunno, I expected something weirder. Like, I dunno, tentacles? There are always tentacles involved. And that it’d be giant, with no real face. This just looks like a man.”
“I believe he was an early powerful superhuman treated as a god. I think his original, or most important, power is what he did there. He absorbs people and takes on their powers. He eats every superhuman he encounters,” Mobian pressed something else on his console.
The view shifted to Mot leading his followers into a small town. Locals stop and stare at him. He halts and raises his hands. The crowd of dark-eyed people moves past him, running for any people or animals around. They fight like their lives depend on it, beating the resistance out of folks. It was like a horde of pimps seeking cash from a couple dozen hookers. Someone did manage to shoot one of the followers, and that guy went down. The ground underneath the shooter shook and dirt flooded upward around the guy’s legs, trapping him and pulling him back under as it retreated. The prisoners were brought before Mot, who put his hands on their heads. He ate most of them. A very few were released to join his flock, though at least a couple of those hung their heads in shame. The more worrisome types were the ones to hold their heads up proudly and smile.
“Mind control?” I ask.
Mobian shook his head. “Not that anyone is aware of. It is discovered just before he is defeated that he has limited telepathy. The one who discovers this said that it was as though Mot peered into his mind and could tell that he was more afraid of Mot than of anyone or anything else.”
“He’s like some sort of extortionist cult leader,” Arsehole said. I still hadn’t bothered asking the name of Mobian’s companion, but, more importantly, I just didn’t care.
“How’d he die?” I asked “Might help me do so more quickly on this go-round.”
The scene changed yet again. Now, Mot stood in a city I didn’t recognize offhand. His followers swarmed like ants, many armed and firing back at soldiers. I noticed a pocket of them shooting uselessly at a tank until one of them closed her eyes and ran for the tank, arms wide. She exploded upon reaching it, cracking open its armor and leaving it a smoking heap.
Then I saw the monsters arrive. A killer clown with a ridiculously exaggerated head sprayed bottles of liquid on followers of Mot that left them smoking, acid-eaten wretches. A hulked-out man with a metal skull for a head ignored gunshots and swung a hook on a chain at followers. A long-haired woman clung to the side of a building and pulled people up toward her with a tongue that wrapped around their throats. Their heads disappeared under her long hair, which hung down to hide her head. They shuddered, then fell, headless.
Spinetingler appeared, his armor black metal and bone, to wield a scythe against Mot. Meanwhile, several of Mot’s followers clutched their heads, then turned on their fellows. Spinetingler’s daughter walked among them a flowing black dress, playing with a pet white rat in her hands.
Mot and Spinetingler fought, briefly. Spinetingler tried to cut the God of Death into pieces, but Mot’s limbs regrew like liquid spurting back out. Before Spinetingler could truly comprehend what was going on, Mot spread out like a human sheet that wrapped around the horror villain. Tingler struggled. Just imagine a human hand pressing out of a big, pliable sheet of human flesh. Nice images. More things to scare my daughter to sleep.
The squirming mass pulled itself back into just Mot. Then some of his followers began to warp and shift into monstrous forms of their own. The day suddenly became night, which seemed like just Spinetingler’s powers until the view shifted to show the sky blotted out by a massive ship. It fired Mot, catching the thing in a blue beam. Mot raised a hand to stare tiny parts of him disintegrated away, slowly enough for him to watch. He started to pull himself back together in spite of it, until the beam pulsed. The view shifted to outside the city, showing the pulse work its way down the beam until a it sweeps out as a wave, fading away before it reaches whatever is recording. The entire city just… blows away. Buildings, people, streets, plants. What’s left is a smooth, circular depression, deep into the Earth.
“The People’s Republic filed only token objections about the destruction of Beijing. After Islamabad and New Delhi, humanity knew the city was already dead.” Mobian said.
Qiang clung to me, hiding her face against my chest. I rubbed her head and kissed the top of it. “There, there, I can stop it.” I looked up to Mobian and nodded toward the space ship. “And the aliens?”
Mobian pressed a button and the walls of his ship whited out again. “That is for me to know and you to find out.”
“Fine… just know that once I take out Mot, I want the title,” I pointed at him with one hand as the others began rubbing my daughter’s back.
“The title?” he asked.
“That’s right, once I find and kill that bastard, I want to be called the God of Death.”
“You see that and you want to find it?” asked Arsehole. She threw her hands up in the air. “He’s a bloody madman!”
“You saw how well waiting for it worked out for everyone,” I explained. I looked down at Qiang. “Now let’s go see your momma.” I looked up at Mobian. “The little girl you just scared would like that, I believe.”
When we landed at that time, Qiang rushed out of the timeship first. Citra and I followed, but I bounced off the opening and she went on through. I tried again, pushing at seemingly empty air. Citra turned to look at me, then reached out for my hand. She tried pulling me through but it just didn’t work. “Go, make sure she’s safe,” I told Citra. I whirled on Mobian, but he and Arsehole ducked through the door quickly. I tried to reach through and grab them, but I was stopped again.
Mobian raised his hands. “I will not give you the opportunity to screw things up further. That is all. This isn’t a trick or trap; neither ambuscade nor set-up. I promise on my life I would never allow your child to come to harm.”
I pointed to the corpse of Future Venus. “I somehow doubt that. I told it to show you what is happening so you will not be unaware. I will release you should anything go wrong.”
And with that, he walked away. Because he could. Just left me banging on a door. Muttering angry sounds to myself, I turned and looked around at the walls, wondering when they were going to show me anything. “Well?” I asked, raising my hands up.
The walls unwhited again, changing to show me Qiang and Citra holding hands, Qiang finding her way through a small town to a house. Mobian and Arsehole ran to catch up as well, but Qiang wasn’t focused on anything but finding her mom.
Nothing seemed to be happening so, having so recently used her as an argument, I snuck on over to help myself to a teeny tiny sample of Future Venus’s future armor. A gal’s gotta stay up to date.
“Mommy!” Qiang said, launching herself at a woman who was rather plain looking, with a scar on one eyebrow that caused a slight break in the hair there. A shame, though. If only I had Qiang’s birthday, I could have gone back about nine months beforehand and made sure she was mine. There wasn’t a man around there anyway. Also, note to self: find out Qiang’s birthday and throw her a party.
Qiang’s mother humored the little girl, having a young baby of her own now, especially once Citra explained to her quietly, “She lost her mother when she was young and you look like her. Please humor her.”
The woman smiled and agreed. Mobian patted Citra’s back but she shot him a look. I’m liking Citra more and more after this trip. I just hope she’s not in love with me or thinking this is more than it is. The group had a pleasant time there, it seemed. They sat and talked. The Citra, Arsehole, and Mobian all fawned over a baby I assumed was Qiang, while my present Qiang told her mother all about me saving her and being her dad and crazy adventures we went on. Yeah, a child’s recitation of my real life doesn’t make for a believable story.
Finally, it was time to drag her away. I knew they’d have to. If that mother was saved somehow, Qiang probably wouldn’t be mine. But knowing that doesn’t count for much when you see your daughter broke out into tears and start struggling to get free of a couple adults.
I launched myself at the command console with a growl, pressing my cheek to it as if that’d make everything merge together faster. Just as the nerves reached out and began to link to what passed for circuitry on the ship, a shock threw me on my back. The walls whited up again, not that I could watch anyway. I was shocked again every time I felt ok to stand or even roll over. It hurt like a brick up the ass.
A few minutes later, Mobian’s voice rang out. “There, go to your daddy if she’s quite done touching things she shouldn’t.”
“I swear, all I did was lick absolutely every surface on that console,” I said, chuckling to myself. I felt Qiang run over and hug me where I lay and I pulled her tight with all but my lower left arm. That one rested uncomfortably under my back. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
“I hate him. I hate stupid heroes,” she said through sniffles.
“I know. I hate them too,” I said, turning to shoot a hostile smile to Mobian.
He snorted and walked up to the platform on his ship. “What I do is necessary. For that matter, my life is if you want to go anywhere. I think it’s for the best if you have a lie down while I see to our travel arrangements.”
Without my helmet, I couldn’t keep as close an eye on everything. I had Citra and Qiang though. Citra to brush my hair and Qiang for me to brush her hair. And Mobian did finally let me up to leave.
I was happy to be rid of him, though. Happy to be back in Ricca, and only an hour after my last stop. Nothing really to clean up after all this, save for the bundle I had wrapped around my lower left arm. I kept it behind me and under my cape as I left Mobian’s ship, so he didn’t really notice. It really was amazing armor, what Future Venus wore. With one of my armor’s working holodiscs attached, Mobian may not even realize she’s missing it.
So I worked on it in the Institute of Science, keeping an eye on him as he began seeking out people with doctorates and more bills than morals to fill out our science team. They certainly would have loved studying what happened with my log. Time travel did odd things to its attempts to send off. I didn’t gain many new readers in the Cretaceous, but that’s for the best. As far as time travel trips go, mine was probably more of a bogus journey than an excellent adventure.
I lost so much I had to redo, too. I rebuilt the nanite mini-foundry, and the armor maintenance tube. And, finally, I finished my new armor. Gecko’s back from her little vacation. Well-rested. Re-armed. Ready to steal some shit and kill some people.
They say that in strange aeons, even death may die.
It’s time to bring the strange.
Dammit, I just realized I got roped into saving the world again. Because now Future Venus is dead, and I’m left alive to deal with a guy who eats supers or get eaten.
Venus is so damn annoying, she makes me want to kill her twice.
Archive Transmission Fragment 8 Complete
Section 7 Complete
Archive Begin Transmission
Whatever damage had happened to the ship, at least it let me leave. I’d made sure Citra and our hostage were alright enough, then headed out to go see what the fuck was going on. I almost tripped over what I’d thought had been part of the wall. A column had fallen down and cracked open, spreading more of those colorful alien uniforms everywhere.
In contrast to the Cretaceous and my brief stopover in the Enlightenment, this place was full of digital noise. I’d gotten used to a lower level of signal traffic, and it was something of an adjustment for me to be here again. The ship had crashed onto a hilltop across the river and outside of a city with architecture you wouldn’t see on the Earth I’d become accustomed to. I knew this city. Home.
The city where I’d been born. It was even snowy, just like my earliest memories. The ones starting just before men with guns busted in the door. I realized a building whose unbuilt top floors I’d once used as a sniper’s nest didn’t even stand out on the skyline. That’s when I checked the date.
Oooooh. Oh no. No no no. How the FUCK did they know that date? Was there time to save myself? Should I?
That explains what was going through my head and why I wasn’t paying so close attention when Venus called out from behind me. “You seem distracted!”
I turned, throwing a wild punch, only to end up with her grabbing my arm and using my own momentum to toss me onto my back. I checked her out while slowly getting to my fight. The armor plating was flush, looking like puzzle pieces, but flexible. The boots were wider and thicker, probably for the sake of leverage. Same went for the fists. Light grey, save for a little remaining pink on the chest, it had seen better days. I found those pockmarks I’d seen on it before, along with scorch marks and thin surface cuts. The armor came up and guarded her neck where it met a helmet. That greying hair was hidden behind a helmet of armored V-shaped plates that swept from the back of her neck down to cover her eyes with one-way mirrored glass. The only skin I could see on her was her mouth.
“Done looking me over?” she asked.
I brushed my thighs off, biding some time, trying to stop the loud hammering of a tell-tale heart that gave away my thoughts on being back here and now. “How’d you know to come back now, to this time?”
She smiled. “I thought you wanted to kill me?”
“Oh, I do. You fucking used me! Just throwing my life away, taking my daughter and running. And now you bring me here. What the fuck?!” Ok, so I was bit on tilt. For the folks who don’t enjoy poker, that means I wasn’t thinking all that clearly.
“What day is it?” she asked.
“You brought me back to it, how can you not know?” I looked around, then up to where Mobian’s ship floated. “How do you know, you time-traveling limey piece of shit?!”
“I cannot tell you that,” his voice sounded from the floating orb.
As pumped full of adrenaline and emotions as I’d become, I wasn’t in a mood to hear that. I looked between that ship, then back to Venus. She took a fighting stance in anticipation of my attack. As far as she knew, I took one of my own. That’s what the hologram did while I stepped to the side. I moved around to her left before trying to catch her around the neck with a grab. The plan was to grab her and squeeze that pretty throat until her head popped or he neck crunched.
She was good, though. She didn’t react to my presence at all until I’d lunged for her. She spun out of the way and hit me in the back with a kick that sent me stumbling. Only then did I let myself become visible again.
“I don’t want to fight you,” she said.
“You picked a hell of a time and place to prove it,” I said, holding my arms straight up and activating my elbow rockets to rise to my feet.
“What’s the matter, something distracted you?” she said. She took another stance in anticipation of my attack.
And I so wanted to attack, but she was right. I was distracted. I want to just jump on her and scoop her ribs out with metallic hands. I also really wanted to go and see myself. I didn’t even remember their faces. And she brought me here, knowing, somehow, when and where, knowing I’d want to go there and do something. I clenched my teeth under my helmet. “Gonna chase me if I run?”
She shook her head. “No, but I think it’s a bad idea.”
“Yeah, you would. Out there’s a little kid whose parents are about to be gunned down. He’ll be kidnapped and tossed into a secret government program that’ll abuse him almost to death because the guy in charge has a hard-on for power. What does protecting the timeline even mean? Just protecting the devil you know for no other reason than you know it?” I put my top hands on my helmet, wishing I could run them through my hair or something. I’d started pacing around in a circle, but I jumped at her, throwing my upper right fist for a punch. What she probably missed was my lower arms shooting straight forward and pulling me along with their rockets.
Venus didn’t react in time and I caught her in the head. She grabbed that wrist with one hand, then went to smack me in the helmet with the flat of her palm. I deflected it with one of my lower arms, then grabbed her wrist with my left. I held my arms out to the side, my lower arms taking it to her belly one after the other. She jumped and wrapped her legs around my lower right, trying to drag me to the ground. She let go of my upper right as well, trying to put that one arm in an armbar. I grabbed hold of it with the lower left arm and used my upper right to pull her leg free. I swung her overhead and brought her down on the grass, tearing up clumps of it as I smashed her on the ground.
I got a few good smacks in that way before she a burst of fire shot out of her back and pulled her forward. She slipped out of my grasp that way, but not before dragging me toward her into the same torn up grass. I set my upper hands into the dirt and rolled until, with my body above me, I launched myself up and onto my feet. I landed right in front of where she was hunched over in the middle of standing. She turned and that giant right shot off her fist like a pneumatic jackhammer, knocking me flat on my cape in what was starting to become more dirt than grass. I slid a little, trying to recover my breath.
Meanwhile, the fist that had come off her about another forearm’s distance slid back along a pair of rails until it locked back on where it served as a gauntlet. But before I could even begin to get up, she’d lunged and planted her knee in my throat. She stood up over me and stepped to the side, careful of my arms.
“You are both freakishly fast. I should know, I hang around enough freaks,” said Mobian’s voice from above.
Venus ignored him. “You’d be abandoning your friends and family. You go and change time, guess what happens to every one of them whose lives you saved? No more Qiang, no more Max. Instead, Spinetingler would have Empyreal City and Ricca’s plot would have gone off without a hitch, maybe. It depends how the alien invasion would go, if they didn’t kill that henchman of yours or the statue. So I care and I know you do, too. Do you want to lose your daughter forever?”
That’s just a fucking low blow. And given my crotch situation, the only one she can pull off that actually hurts.
“You done yet?” I asked, then finished with a few coughs. I sat up. “You’re the hero. You’re supposed to be the one running around saving kids.”
“Cheap shot,” she said.
I scrambled to my feet, prompting her to back off just a little. “So, you want me to condemn myself to every fucked-up thing that’s ever happened to me for the greater good of your world.”
“And your family,” she added. “You want me to save someone even though you know it will hurt your loved ones and the world.”
One good thing about a pair of extra arms? I can flip someone the bird without compromising combat readiness. “Making some things right is just more important than your consequences. Like not being complicit in the torture and abuse of all of us in the Psychopomp Program. I’m not me yet, see. I’m some kid out there, enjoying the solstice holidays with my parents. I even have a real name!”
“You have a real daughter up there,” she raised her chin to indicate Mobian’s ship floating overhead.
“What the fuck do you want from me you turgid gurgler?!” I asked, flailing for words. I was just yelling at her at that point, fighting be damned.
“I don’t want to kill you, but I think I have to,” she said.
“You’re starting to sound like me before you decided to run off with my kid,” I said.
“I was taking her to the Master Academy!” she yelled. “You never let me explain, because you wanted to assume the worst. You disappeared in 2018 and somebody dropped Qiang off at the Academy.”
I pondered. “So this entire trip is when I supposedly died…”
Her stance tightened up again as she grew expectant of an attack. “Then you survived the ambush by the aliens and actually came after us. I knew what that meant. The timeline says you don’t go back.”
“You and that gorram timeline,” I said. “Here I thought you might still want to save me. Nope. Just kill me and abduct my daughter.”
I lunged. She moved back to put some distance between us. This time, I didn’t project invisibility. I projected a whole lot of visibility. I lit up with a bright flash of light that blinded her enough for me to sidestep and punch her in the throat. She stumbled and covered up her throat, leaving her with just one arm to counter more punches. She used her legs instead. She even jumped up, hitting her little jetpack, and staggered me by kicking with both legs. It put some distance between us and she flipped around to land on her feet. Then it was her turn to come for me.
I tried to block her punches, but that piston thing was stronger than I expected. I felt something crack in my lower left forearm. She swept my legs, but I managed to jump back and avoid it. She cocked something back on her right fist, shooting a canister out of the right knuckle. I went to swat it away but it stuck and electricity began to course throughout the armor. It didn’t do much to the armor, aside from help charge it, but it got through enough to leave me grinding my teeth, my muscles involuntarily spasming.
It only lasted a second, but was long enough to leave me open to a flying spinning kick from Venus that whirled me around. I turned around quickly and punched at what I was sure would be a follow-up with my upper left. The glowing gauntlet unloaded its energy on her right gauntlet. And that’s it. They hit, her gauntlet unleashed a couple streams of steam, and neither moved. I tried with my right lower arm, but she intercepted it with her left fist, no give, just steam. Same for my right upper, but I sent the wounded lower lefty flying for her face, only to be stopped by her grabbing my arm, raising it up, squeezing it, unloading on me with a big, pistoned left to the chest.
I lost my breath again, and lower left did pretty cracking, but she didn’t let go. I tried to fly away from the hit but she yanked me back in for another hit, this time to the head. It had me seeing stars. That strong of a hit, I thought I might even see Ziggy Stardust in a minute. Then my helmet was gone. How’d that happen? Of course, that question had to wait for me to keep getting the shit pounded out of me. It’s hard to think while doing me best impersonation of an asshole on getting a train run on it.
When Venus let me go, my chestplates had been trashed. I didn’t have a helmet. My lower left arm was broken in all kinds of places and the gauntlet was missing. Oh, and I spat up a bloody mess of what used to be most of my teeth. Venus knelt over me, looking down, even as my hands twitched around, my lower right one hunting for my belt. She raised her fist, and it looked big. You don’t know how big. So big, I musta had a concussion, that’s how big.
“I don’t want to kill you. That’s the kind of hero I was taught to be. When Master Academy was founded, it wasn’t about heroes. It was Oligarch who created it. He wanted kids with powers loyal to him. He just made it seem like we were heroes. He didn’t torture us, but he wanted to make us weapons like your general out there. We were taught that we were supposed to be better than everyone else, elitist jerk. Mender found out and confronted him. That’s how he ended up crippled, but he exposed Oligarch to the rest of us and we drove him off. Since then, Master Academy is about improving ourselves. And we can be better than we were.”
Her voice had gained a backbone then. She lowered her fist, then stood up. “You can still change.”
I tried to laugh but it came out as a cough. Instead, I settled for telling her “Fuck you.”
“You can still change the future,” she continued.
“What are you doing?” asked Mobian.
“He’s right. Some things are worth changing,” she called up. Then she looked back down to me, but still spoke up loud enough for him to hear. “I don’t want to become a murderer just to protect your status quo!”
It was almost inspiring, coming from a woman who led me into an ambush, beat the shit out of me, and kidnapped my daughter. Plus, whatever this was, this whole thing where she brought me back to before I was kidnapped to get an edge on me. These were the thoughts racing through my punch-drunk skull at the time. And I remembered something else that didn’t seem right, which mildly amused me to note. It was a bit arrogant, actually.
I raised my right hand. I think it was the upper one, because things were fuzzy at that moment. “Wait, wait, wait… one sec, hold on… before you go into any more preaching… you said just I disappeared, only me…”
A spear came flying out of the night right toward the side of Venus’s head. She turned and actually caught the thing, causing even Citra’s jaw to drop from where she threw it. Venus stood up. “I didn’t know about-” then she looked down to where a headless rubber chicken squirmed against her in my grip. I amped up the power on my suit’s leg pseudomuscles and kicked Future Venus through the chicken, causing Venus to drop the spear and sending them both flying. The chicken detonated in mid air and helped Venus carve out her own divot in the grass.
I grabbed for the spear and helped myself up, then jumped high, arcing down toward her. I don’t know where Citra got that spear, what it was made of, or what Venus’s armor was made of. All I know is that I came down on top of it with all my weight right into her mouth. It didn’t penetrate the armor on the other side of her head from her mouth. Instead, it slid and dropped me while the blade sliced upward through her skull. The rest of the stumbling I did dealing trying to catch my balance wasn’t any better for her head. I could barely even stand, barely even register what was going on as her body twitched its final twitches.
Instead, I held a hand over my face while searching through my belt for anything helpful like, ooh, a syringe! I had no shortage of places I could inject it with my armor beat to crap.
Out of the corner of my eye, I realized the glowing orb above us had started to rise.
“Come back down here!” called Citra, and I saw she now had Arsehole, Mobian’s companion, by the elbow. Arsehole was still tied up, but her leg restraints had been loosened enough to let her stand and move on her own.
“Yeah, get your ass down here, Mobian. I don’t think I’ll kill you,” I slurred, then vomited up a tooth.
“Hey, don’t leave me!” called Arsehole, and that really got him in a hurry to land. The glowing orb descended and the dark outline of a doorway appeared.
The older, British-accented time traveler stepped out into the doorway. “She changed the timeline.”
“Have that sit on a big purple dragon dildo. I changed the timeline,” I said. Citra came over to help me stand even as microscopic machines coursed through my body to mend tissue and organs. “We changed the timeline,” I said in response to my wife’s aid.
Qiang pushed past Mobian and raced toward me. Citra and I both bent down to hug my beautiful baby, despite the rather poor state I was in. The doubts I had about maybe going and saving myself washed away. They didn’t leave, not completely.
Mobian gave us wide berth as he stepped around to untie Arsehole. “I could still leave you.”
“You wanna try that again, Monty Python?” I asked, raising a lower left fist that felt stronger already. “I could still screw things up for you. Save myself, maybe build more D-Bombs, come back over early. Or, and hear me out here, we all just go back to 2018.”
He locked eyes on Venus’s corpse for a long second. “Let me bring her. She deserves a proper funeral for all I’ve known her.”
I nodded, then turned my attention to kissing all over Qiang’s face. “You smell like blood!” she said, giggling. Aren’t we a pair? Or perhaps more than a pair, the way Citra clung to us both.
“Come on, let’s get inside the ship before he changes his mind,” I said, leaving Mobian and Arsehole to drag the body of Future Venus inside by themselves.
Mobian did indeed bring her in, finding us three sitting down and cuddling, me all bloody and snotty in torn-up armor. It wasn’t exactly Christmas Card material.
“Before you go back to 2018, I have something I want to show you,” Mobian said. He glared at us, which just goes to show how he took all this too seriously. Who could glare at my little Qiang? “Something to make her sacrifice worthwhile.”
In spite of her presence, I glared right back at him. “Good, because there’s someone my daughter needs to see as well.” For emphasis, I jammed a big ol’ syringe into my neck and pushed the plunger, injecting myself with more nanites. He looked away first.
Archive Transmission Fragment 7 Complete
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